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Thursday, August 5, 2010
The right feel on Cardinals' Matt Leinart

By Mike Sando
ESPN.com

Veteran safeties are often excellent resources because they understand the bigger picture and they have a clear sense for what makes quarterbacks dangerous.

One small regret upon leaving Arizona Cardinals camp was missing an opportunity to ask a veteran safety -- Adrian Wilson was the one I had in mind -- for impressions on quarterback Matt Leinart. I had planned to stop Wilson after practice Wednesday, but another interview ran long and it didn't work out.

Matt Leinart
Matt Leinart has impressed his teammates in the early stages of training camp.
Not a problem, in retrospect. Jim Trotter of Sports Illustrated was also at Cardinals camp recently and he did get Wilson's thoughts on Leinart:
"To be honest with you, Matt has really jumped out at me. He's been a much more vocal leader. He wasn't like that in the past. The quarterback position is the head position; everybody looks up to it. Matt wasn't just thrown in that spot, he had to wait a while. I think he's really matured and it's showing. If he misses on a ball, he knows it's his fault and not the receiver's fault. That's just something he has really grown into."

That sounds pretty encouraging for Cardinals fans, but coach Ken Whisenhunt has continued to limit how much praise he heaps upon Leinart. Whisenhunt has expressed confidence in Leinart, but he did that in the weeks before benching Leinart two years ago. It's always been tough to get a rock-solid feel for the quarterback situation in Arizona and I think that is by design. Whisenhunt believes in conditional love at the position; even Warner had to sweat before emerging as the starter in 2008.

Leinart is the starter, but if he blows the opportunity, Whisenhunt won't be afraid to make a change.

I emerged from Cardinals camp feeling as though Leinart would be the starter heading into the regular season, and there would be no last-minute switch this time. But I was only about 90 percent sure. The decision for Whisenhunt is easier now than it was in 2008 because Kurt Warner is no longer an alternative. At some point, though, it would help if Leinart played well enough for the Cardinals to say, "That's a starting NFL quarterback and the type of guy a team can build around."

Wilson sees signs of that happening, but there's no getting around what Leinart must do to win a fuller endorsement from Whisenhunt. He must play well in games, starting with the upcoming exhibition season.