Quarterbacks Matt Leinart (7) and Derek Anderson (3) share a laugh with quarterbacks coach Chris Miller during a training camp practice.
It's hard to say the Matt Leinart era is about to start, since Leinart has already been a starter coming into a season in 2007 and because Saturday night's game against Houston is only the preseason opener.
Still, it's naïve not to realize that this game does mean something significant to Leinart. His season won't be decided in the few series he plays, but he and the Cardinals know he can solidify his place as both quarterback and leader with a good performance.
"I have to go and prove that game by game," Leinart said. "I think I have been doing that in practice, but practice is practice and the games are what count. I think my teammates believe in me, but I have to go out and do it."
There are always plenty of areas every team needs to evaluate in the preseason – "Pick one," said coach Ken Whisenhunt when asked what positions he'd be looking at – but quarterback will obviously be at the top of the list.
Derek Anderson is still learning the offense, but he is still in the mix as potential starter should Leinart falter. Whisenhunt said he wants Anderson to get some work with the starting offensive line against the Texans, just to see how that chemistry meshes.
At some point Whisenhunt will also take a look at rookie quarterbacks John Skelton and Max Hall, although Whisenhunt wasn't sure if both were going to get into the Houston game given the look needed for both Leinart and Anderson.
As for what Whisenhunt wants to see from Leinart, the coach talked about assertiveness and how the quarterback handles the huddle. Production is important, but it's almost less a part of the equation.
"There are a lot of things we will evaluate from Matt that won't necessarily be seen from the fans' perspective," Whisenhunt said. "I want to see if he is able to take what he has progressed with in the offseason and carry it on to the field, this role he is in now."
Both Leinart and Anderson seem to comprehend that part. Their answers to what they need to accomplish in the opener are virtually the same.
"I know I'm not going to play a lot but I want to take advantage of the opportunities," Leinart said. "I want to build in my new position this year, my new role."
Said Anderson, "You're just managing the team and showing you understand what is going on. Obviously, who knows how long everybody is going to be in there. You run the show and get your feet underneath you."
As usual, the Cardinals will not game plan, running basic plays with little regard for what the Texans might do. Whisenhunt knows mistakes will be made. He just doesn't want to see excessive or repeated mistakes.
That's not always easy, since in practice mistakes cost much less and there is always a coach to correct any problems. "All that is gone Saturday at 5:06 when we kick off," Whisenhunt said. "They are on an island, and we get to see how they react."
That evaluation starts with Leinart.
"My goal and the offense's goal is to come out fast," Leinart said. "That would be ideal and what we expect to do."
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