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Picturing Leinart's Role

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Backup quarterback Matt Leinart said he is "working hard" and just waiting for an opportunity to play for the Cardinals.

When he stands out on the practice field and the first-team offense is given a play, backup quarterback Matt Leinart tries to visualize.

Kurt Warner walks to the line to run the play, and Leinart pictures what he would do if he were Warner – check this part of the defense, throw the ball to that receiver.

"A lot of times, it's where Kurt ends up going with the ball, which I think is pretty good," Leinart says with a chuckle. "Now, I am not Kurt or anything, but the mental part is better. When you know where you are going with the ball, it makes it a lot easier."

Leinart has long been a popular topic among Cardinals' fans, and perhaps no

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moreso than now. Some are (surprisingly) frustrated at Warner's turnovers the past two games and wonder if Leinart could do better. Some just want to see Leinart get some playing time – and maybe a start -- during the regular season, especially with the team on the verge of clinching a playoff spot.

Coach Ken Whisenhunt wouldn't mind getting Leinart into a game either. But, as the cliché emphasizes, timing is everything.

The Cards haven't clinched yet, and of that Whisenhunt is mindful. Once they do, there are playoff seedings to consider and fight for, and the need to regain some chemistry on the field.

Remember, this is a coach on the staff of the 2005 Steelers, a team that got hot going into the postseason. Playing full speed through the end of the regular season seems to be more Whisenhunt's style. Even if the Cards are cemented into their playoff seed before, say, the finale against the Seahawks, it probably wouldn't behoove the Cards to sit Warner altogether.

When it comes to scenarios when Leinart could play, Whisenhunt simply says "we'll cross that bridge when we come to it." That said, Whisenhunt also says Leinart has "earned" playing time.

"He's worked his tail off and I think he has learned a lot watching how we have done some things," Whisenhunt said. "There will be a time when he gets to play and I expect him to do well."

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Since Whisenhunt said he has seen Leinart play (and succeed) last season in games such as Pittsburgh and Seattle, the coach doesn't feel it absolutely imperative he see Leinart in a game.

Whisenhunt compares what Leinart is doing now on the practice field to the strides in practice running back J.J. Arrington made during the four games he didn't play. Arrington has turned into a solid contributor on Sundays since then.

But Leinart can't see the field in certain packages. If he plays, it means Warner doesn't, and Warner remains a viable (if less popular) MVP candidate for the whole league.

Leinart does get more practice reps than many backup quarterbacks around the NFL, although he grins and notes that more reps for a backup still only means "a few here and there." Talks with offensive coordinator Todd Haley before the season convinced Leinart to take as much advantage as possible in running the scout team against the Cards' starting defense, getting used to the speed of the game to improve himself.

That doesn't replace time on the field on Sundays.

If he is put in for kneel-downs or handoffs, Leinart will of course be the good soldier and do so, but he'd prefer to have the chance to throw a couple passes and "get into a rhythm." Whisenhunt seems mindful of that, one of the reasons Leinart hasn't come into such end-of-game situations.

The subject doesn't seem to be a sore one for Leinart, however. Left unsaid is the uncertainty of the future, of Warner's impending free agency and whether the veteran will be back to start in 2009. If Warner returns and Leinart remains a Cardinal – a combination which remains the most likely scenario – Leinart may spend next season learning in much the same fashion.

He'll also be wondering when and if he might get on the field – just like some Cards' fans.

"It's nice to have that support, but we are all in this together," Leinart said. "We have some big games coming up and then some playoff games. (The fans) are encouraging, but I am young and I have a lot of years (left).

"Just be patient."

Leinart was talking about the fans. He could have been talking about himself.


Contact Darren Urban at askdarren@cardinals.nfl.net. Posted 12/3/08.

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