Well, as the Arizona Cardinals wrapped up their mini camp this past weekend many were surprised by the effective play of QB Matt Leinart. Apparently he looked sharp, and did not appear to be rusty at all, a testimony to is study of the playbook and film during his time on IR this past year. BUT…..Those same observers were quick to acknowledge the play of veteran Kurt Warner, saying that he also looked very sharp in drills. Leinart looked good. Warner looked good.
So let the inevitable QB Controversy discussions begin.
We know it’s coming. Let the experts chime on in about how Leinart’s party pictures are some kind of indication of his ability on the field, or about how Warner is never going to be happy playing the back up role after the kind of year he had in 2007. As long as we have two talented players for a position that can only be occupied by one man, this debate is going to continue. But personally, I actually enjoy the debate. And today I’m going to be making the case for Leinart to be the starter.
So giving him the benefit of the doubt, here are my top 5 reasons why Leinart is a better option for the Cards as the starting QB in 2008:
1. The ‘IT’ Factor
Whatever you want to call it; charisma, confidence, moxie……whatever, Matt Leinart has it. This kid is a proven winner. From a high school championship, onto to 2 National Championships and a Heisman Trophy, nobody can be stupid enough to argue that this boy has a ton of talent and skill. There are so many intangibles that every NFL player has to possess, and for a quarterback the most important quality is the ability to walk into the huddle and have the other 10 guys in that huddle know you are in charge. We’ve heard from the veterans and rookies alike, and they’re not saying Kurt doesn’t have it, but so does Matt.
Let me make this perfectly clear, Matt Leinart is not a tremendous threat to score with his feet, at least not in the running game. When I say mobility, I mean the ability to avoid the rush and buy more time in the pocket. You need proof? Watch film of both Seahawks games last year and you’ll see a big difference in how each QB handled the Seattle pass rush. Leinart was mere tenths of a second from being sacked several times, but a simple side step or a slight movement in the pocket bought him the time to make the plays down field.
Say what you want about his arm strength, if you look over his entire career (college and pros) Leinart is an accurate passer. While he doesn’t have the rocket that Kurt does, he throws a tight spiral and has shown that he can put the ball into great spots where only his guys can get it. Leinart is less of a gunslinger than Warner and by that regard does not make all the risky throws that Warner does. As his playing time increases, his accuracy will only get better.
Now how can his age be a positive factor in him being the starting QB? Because he has a lot more tread left on the tires as opposed to Warner. Sure Matt got knocked out last season, but the coaching staff is already marveling at how much stronger he looks now and he is already completely healthy and ready to go. Kurt was a warrior playing with that elbow injury last year, but at 36, with over 10 years in professional football, his body is not what it once was. Leinart is a big QB, standing at 6’5″ and now over 230lbs. He has bulked up and is ready for the hard knocks he’s going to keep taking as a QB in the NFL. Warner is a warrior, but you can’t fight Father Time.
This may also be questionable one for some of you out there. Call me crazy, but part of me thinks that a player who has never reached the top of their profession has more to play for than someone who has already acheived greatness. Kurt has been to the top; a former two-time league MVP and Super Bowl MVP, he has led his team to victory on the greatest stage in sports. If he doesn’t win here in Arizona, he’s always got those memories. Leinart is young and he is hungry, just like most every other player on the Cards’ roster. Guys like Anquan Boldin and Larry Fitzgerald haven’t even sniffed the post-season during their time here, and that is a rallying point for them around Leinart. I’ve seen watching both of these guys during games. Kurt is what I would call a “quiet professional” who does his job and does it well. Leinart is full of fire, he gets emotional, he gets excited, and that kind of play is contagious.
This is a debate that is going to continue well into the preseason and, in all likelihood, into the regular season as well. My brother Tom once told me that the most popular guy on the team is always the backup quarterback, not really for what he has or hasn’t done, but because whenever the starter struggles everyone thinks that the backup will be the savior and I couldn’t agree more. Patience is not a virtue that many NFL fans tend to have, so clamoring for Leinart to produce may seem warranted. But if you’re truly an Arizona Cardinals fan, I mean truly an Arizona Cardinals fan, than like me you have to be one of the most patient people on the planet. So just relax Cards fans.
Coming soon……part two: a case for Warner.