At USC, amid the heat of Hollywood, it was sometimes hard to remember that Matt Leinart was a football player. He was a fixture at the hot spots and under the bright lights on the red carpet. Was he really dating Paris Hilton? In retrospect, it's amazing that he found time to win two national championships and a Heisman Trophy.
These days, Leinart finds himself far from the glitz and glamour. The Cardinals' first-round draft choice toils in anonymity in the Cardinals' facility in Tempe, Ariz. One day last week, he and quarterbacks coach Mike Kruczek were, literally, taking it back to the drawing board in Kruczek's office.
"Draw up double left, jet left, quick 212, H-slant and explain to me the various reads," said Kruczek, who played quarterback at Boston College, then in the pros with the Steelers and Redskins.
Leinart, intently working the blue marker, knew the drill.
"Two by two set, quick, jet left tells us that we have a three-step drop, so we have to get the ball out quick," he said, marker squeaking. "And here we go: We have a slant by the Z, the Y's got a flat arrow by now. The back-side H has the lookie route, the X on the slant.
"If they give me a two-high look, I'm going back-side inside lookie to the X on the slant. Any single-high, Cover 3, Cover 1 look, we're going to throw off the defender here, Z to the Y. Any pressure look we can really work both ways, depending on what type of leverage the defender has on the receiver."
Kruczek nodded with satisfaction. "It's a very efficient play," he said.
Great quarterbacks are not born, they are educated. Leinart, like Vince Young in Tennessee and Jay Cutler in Denver, is facing a steep learning curve. Unlike the other two, Leinart is working from behind since he missed the first two weeks of training camp. The last of the 255 draftees to sign a contract, Leinart has been scrambling ever since to catch up.
The good news? Starting quarterback Kurt Warner and a dazzling cast of skill position players -- Edgerrin James, Larry Fitzgerald and Anquan Boldin -- remove any pressure that Dennis Green might feel to play the rookie too quickly.
"Once he got here, we gave him a lot of information," Green said. "He was able to handle it. He does process information very well. I think he has a good feel for it. It comes from good college play, good college training, but I also think he's geared toward the pro game."
|The Learning Curve|
• Garber: QB learning curve
The volume of information for a rookie QB to learn can be staggering. Greg Garber visited with three first-round rookies to explore the learning curve for rookie QBs.
• Learning curve: Jay Cutler
The comparisons to John Elway started early for Jay Cutler in Denver. But the rookie QB knows he still has a lot to learn.
• Learning curve: Matt Leinart
Matt Leinart was a star on the big stage at USC. Now he's just a rookie trying to learn the playbook in Arizona.
• Learning curve: Vince Young
The Titans have already given Vince Young some game action. The question now is will they continue to ease him in and let him learn or decide that he needs to play now?
"Some people have the ability to grasp things quickly, whether you're a lineman, a receiver, whatever," Leinart said. "I can grasp plays, the protections, and understand what we're trying to do as an offense and understand reading defenses."
To increase his familiarity with the jargon, Leinart would practice in his spare time.
"I would look at my playbook but I would like, do the formations to the words and I would draw them out on the grease board and erase it, and I would go one by one," Leinart said.
In his preseason debut against the Patriots on Aug. 19, Leinart drove the Cardinals down the field at the end of the second quarter for their only points in a 30-3 loss. He wound up completing 29 of 47 passes for 314 yards, two touchdowns and no interceptions, good for a preseason passer rating of 95.5.
Leinart, like any first-round draft choice, has a degree of confidence. Some would say cockiness.
"I don't want it to be, 'Oh, he's a rookie quarterback. He's allowed to make mistakes,'" Leinart said. "I don't want to do that."
This is balanced by his recent experience at the gleaming new Cardinals Stadium.
"I'm just not used to a whole lot of things," Leinart said. "This is funny. I got lost going to the locker room [the other day] because I haven't been in the stadium."
Greg Garber is a senior writer for ESPN.com.
(Photos: 1. AP Photo/Matt York; 2. E. Bakke/WireImage.com; 3. Mark J. Rebilas/US Presswire; 4. Mark J. Rebilas/US Presswire; 5. Jim Rogash/WireImage.com)