Betting on Leinart
The state of Arizona is already mired in enough controversy. It doesn’t need another one at quarterback.
That’s why followers of the NFL Cardinals should relax. Matt Leinart will do just fine as your new starter at the position.
There are plenty of naysayers out there ready to write this team off because Kurt Warner retired. Some of it is understandable. Warner proved both in St. Louis and Arizona that he was one of the best and most accurate passers of the past decade and he did take both teams to the Super Bowl.
But let’s be sensible here. Leinart is no slouch. We’re talking about a kid who went 37-2 and won two national titles against some of the finest competition in college football at USC. He captured the Heisman Trophy as a junior and helped Reggie Bush win his own trophy as a senior.
Yes, he was beaten out by Warner with the Cardinals. But almost any young quarterback would have been under the circumstances. The key, though, among those who have closely observed Leinart, is that now he’s been given the job. He doesn’t have to look over his shoulder pads anymore.
At a recent luncheon in Orange County, I happened to be sitting with Bruce Rollinson, Leinart’s old high school coach at Mater Dei. “Matt always has been the same way,” Rollinson said. “Once he knows the job is his, his level of play goes way up. It was that way here and that way at USC. I think it will be the same way in the NFL.”
He’s right about what happened with the Trojans. Leinart and Matt Cassell, whom you may recognize as the starting quarterback with Kansas City, were competing for the job in the spring of Leinart’s sophomore season. It was so close at the end of camp, nobody knew which one Pete Carroll would choose.
Once he chose Leinart, though, the wraps came off. There was a series of brilliant 300 and 400 yard passing games, capped off by an MVP Rose Bowl trophy. There was that brilliant MVP performance against Oklahoma in the BCS championship game. There was that unforgettable fourth and 19 pass in the final moments against Notre Dame, only the best clutch throw in Trojans history.
If USC had beaten Vince Young and Texas in that wild BCS title game at the Rose Bowl in Leinart’s last collegiate start, he might have been remembered as the greatest college quarterback of all time.
Now he finally gets his professional opportunity in Arizona, where the offense will be tailored more to him. With Warner, it was four wideouts and throw on almost every down. Coach Ken Wisenhunt will go back to what he felt comfortable with as an assistant in Pittsburgh, utilizing the running game and tight ends more and featuring Leinart throwing a lot of play-action passes.
Look for Beanie Wells, the exciting young tailback out of Ohio State, to become the franchise back this team has lacked. If he does, and the rebuilt offensive line holds up, the Cardinals should win the NFC West.
And Matt Leinart’s career should take a sudden swerve back onto its old, successful course.
— Steve Bisheff