Quarterbacks Matt Leinart (left) and Brian St. Pierre (center) share a laugh with quarterbacks coach Chris Miller in training camp last season.
His decade as an NFL quarterback showed Chris Miller what should be done to be successful at the position.
It also showed him the quarterback needs help to figure those things out.
"If you don't have someone you can check in with, or show you things on video," the Cardinals' quarterback coach said, "you may not see it."
The Cardinals have two quarterbacks on the roster – starter-in-waiting Matt Leinart and the newly signed Derek Anderson – that Miller, not surprisingly, sees as works-in-progress. Miller has a relationship with both. He coached Leinart last season after coming to Arizona. He first met Anderson when Anderson was a high school star in Oregon, after Miller had built his reputation at the University of Oregon and in the NFL.
Soon, he'll have both on the field. Each player is expected to take part in the voluntary strength and conditioning program, and they each will begin working with Miller on their mechanics in an attempt to play at a more consistent level.
Leinart will be the one in the spotlight. Like coach Ken Whisenhunt, Miller tempers his belief in Leinart's potential with a wait-and-see attitude. That perspective isn't unexpected -- "I will be the first to say I need to go out there, play consistent, and earn that," Leinart acknowledged recently, adding "that's what I am planning on doing."
But Miller has seen enough (for instance, Leinart's preseason showing against Green Bay) to "know it's in there."
"I think Matt struggled at times being the backup because you tend to have a starter's mentality … and so I am excited to see how good of a pro he can become," Miller said. "I know he has the physical talent and the mental makeup to be a successful quarterback in this league. He's just got to earn the coaches and players' confidence, and the only way you can do that is by playing."
In terms of Leinart's mechanics, Miller's pet project is the quarterback's tendency to sail passes high. It has been reoccurring, like in the Chicago game this past season. Larry Fitzgerald was open deep in one-on-one coverage and a good throw could have resulted in a touchdown, Miller said. Instead, Leinart was off-target and the ball was intercepted.
Miller believes Leinart can work that flaw out of his game, but also said it was important to eliminate it soon – hopefully, before training camp.
"We all throw crappy balls from time to time, but that's been his nemesis," Miller said. "It's like being a golfer and having a snap hook in your game, and you come up on the 18th hole with a one-stroke lead and you hook it in the lake or out of bounds. In our game, if you're in the fourth quarter, you can't have that throw show up if it's third-and-12 and you have a comeback (route) outside against tight man coverage. You have to fit that ball into a mailbox."
In training camp last season, Leinart "threw the heck out of the ball," Miller said, in part because he was getting regular work in Flagstaff. Miller said he took some of the blame for that work tailing off once the season began and Kurt Warner began seeing the bulk of practice reps. Leinart's shift to more practice reps and more "functional drills" can only help.
In many ways, Anderson is in the same position. After watching film and talking with Anderson, both Miller and his new quarterback agreed he had gotten away from working on mechanics and fundamentals since Anderson's Pro Bowl season. That will change.
"Derek has great physical tools and a big arm," Miller said. "But as a big guy, he needs to get footwork in position, his shoulders prepared and he needs his body in right spot or he will be inaccurate."
Whisenhunt may have already delivered one boost to Leinart's development. Seahawks coach Pete Carroll, who coached Leinart at USC, told reporters at the recent NFL owners' meetings that it made "worlds of difference" to a "floundering" Leinart when Leinart was finally named the USC starter over Matt Cassel when both were vying to replace Carson Palmer. Leinart went on to be one of the most successful college quarterbacks in history.
Now Leinart has gotten a similar nod from Whisenhunt and Carroll believes Leinart will be successful, just like college played out. "He just flipped and hit the switch," Carroll added. "I think that's what he's been waiting for."
That makes sense to Miller.
"In his mind, I think the slate is clean for Matt," Miller said. "And if that's how he is wired and how he is to get him to get to play at the level we need him to, great."
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