The day the Cardinals drafted Matt Leinart, then-coach Dennis Green proclaimed the fact Leinart dropped to the team’s 10th overall selection as a “gift from heaven.” Then Leinart’s first two starts – close losses to the Chiefs and Bears (the Monday Night Meltdown) that Leinart should have won had the team held up – showed so much promise.
It never quite materialized, though.
Blame it on sitting behind a probable Hall of Famer. Blame it on coach Ken Whisenhunt’s arrival. Blame it on Leinart’s inability to seize the moments he was given, or the opportunities some fans think he never got. Doesn’t matter. Leinart is an ex-Cardinal now.
I do think this: If Leinart was better on the field, he’d be here. That sounds so general, but it’s true. The basic, fundamental reason Deuce Lutui is going to be starting at guard – after missing all the offseason and showing up well overweight – when Reggie Wells was traded after doing everything asked of him this summer? They think, in the end, Deuce is a better player.
They didn’t think Leinart was a better player than Derek Anderson. It was close – close enough that the other stuff comes into play, the stuff Whisenhunt declined to get into publicly Saturday and probably never will. The coach insisted no players had input in this decision (he was specifically asked about Larry Fitzgerald) and brought up again that stats aren’t everything.
Explaining some of the things he liked about rookie Max Hall – now the No. 2 QB – and Whiz noted, “There are a number of things you try to judge the quarterback position other than his completion percentage.”
Leinart couldn’t show Whisenhunt something for which he was looking. Whisenhunt likes to treat his quarterbacks like they are any other player on the team, a tight end or an inside linebacker. I’m not sure that works for Leinart. There is a reason Leinart clicks so well with Seahawks coach Pete Carroll, his boss in college at USC. Leinart didn’t react well to his recent demotion, and whether you think Whisenhunt was fair to judge him on that or not, the bottom line is that Leinart should have known his coach well enough by now to know what was expected.
This wasn’t just about this preseason. Bottom line, the memory of his brief stint in Chicago last year lingered. Or the fact the Cards went through the Rams like butter in St. Louis behind Kurt Warner last season, and once Warner was concussed, the Cards suddenly couldn’t score with Leinart. There were other moments, I’m sure.
Whisenhunt insisted Saturday he thought Leinart could play. He just obviously couldn’t play for the Cardinals.
Leinart will sign somewhere else. Everyone will see whether Whisenhunt made a big mistake, or just cut his losses. In the meantime, Whiz has gone with Anderson, no sure bet, and backed him up with coaching staff favorite Hall, the rookie brimming with confidence.
“He’s not the second coming at the position,” Whisenhunt said of Hall, “but he’s done some good things. … He’s probably mad he’s not the starter. He’s definitely not afraid.”
Hall, actually, bluntly said “absolutely” the other night when I asked if he was comfortable being the backup if needed. I’m not sure that was ever an edge Leinart possessed. Maybe that could have helped. Whether Hall can translate it to success on the field, well, that too will be judged.
Leinart has already been judged, at least here. He’s not the first first-round quarterback to wash out nor will he be the last. Whisenhunt said both sides needed a fresh start. Of everything said and written in this whole saga, that is the point of which I am the most sure.
Tags: Dennis Green, Derek Anderson, Deuce Lutui, Ken Whisenhunt, Matt Leinart, Max Hall, Reggie Wells
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