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Coach Whisenhunt Failed To Show Confidence In Matt Leinart

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Cardinals Coach Ken Whisenhunt initially supported Matt Leinart as the starter, but after a few weeks of training camp, has abandoned him. Without Kurt Warner by his side, Leinart isn't the only Cardinals leader who needs to prove himself.

The quarterback situation with the Arizona Cardinals is a mess. You have a guy in Matt Leinart -- who had every expectation that he was going to be the starter -- getting yanked around by his coach and lashing out in a public and disruptive way.

This is a mess that Ken Whisenhunt created when he named Derek Anderson the starting quarterback for the third preseason game with little or no warning.

It would be nice if Leinart had kept some of his thoughts to himself and not answered questions quite so candidly, but at the same time, it is on the coach to head this off at the pass.

Leinart went into camp as the Cardinals starting quarterback. He started the first two games as the starting quarterback and suddenly he's not the guy anymore and he had every right to an explanation from his coach as to why the move was made.

It is not up to Leinart to seek out Whisenhunt and get his questions answered. It's up to Whisenhunt to give Leinart a legitimate explanation and lay out where and how Anderson beat Leinart for the job despite numbers in the first two (now three) preseason games that say otherwise.

Whisenhunt supporters have argued that Leinart didn't lose the job by going 19-for-23 in three games. They say that Leinart had four years to prove himself and yet that's not what Whisenhunt said when Anderson was signed to the team in March.

"Certainly Matt has earned the right to be the guy and that's the way we're going forward as we proceed," Whisenhunt told reporters after signing Anderson as the backup quarterback this spring.

Anderson was clear about his role, as well, "My understanding was I'm coming there to be the No. 2 and compete and do what I've done over my career."

That's not to say that Whisenhunt hasn't always left the door open for a little healthy competition. In fact, Whisenhunt was very complimentary about how Leinart handled that uncertainly when he spoke with XTRA 910 radio on July 15, a few weeks before training camp started.

He made it clear, again, that he would still look at Derek Anderson and see what he can do, but then went on to praise Matt's improved leadership.

"I think that Matt is mentally much stronger than he was. I think he's very focused on knowing that he can take this team and lead this team and win games and that's a difference that I've seen from him this spring and to me, that's very encouraging," Whisenhunt said.

Whiz cited specifically how Matt responded to questions about whether he would be the starter. Whisenhunt quoted Leinart as saying he wasn't worried about that and that he would show "these guys" that he could lead the team and that he could play.

Here's how Whisenhunt talked about Leinart's attitude:

"When he said that, to me that struck a chord because I said 'He's finally got it. He finally understands it's not about what anybody says; it's about what you do, it's about how you prepare, it's about how you carry yourself on the field, and it's about how you perform. And if you do those things the way I've seen you do it in practice at times and the way I've seen you grow into that the last couple of years you'll be just fine'."

Somewhere between July 15 and Aug. 26, that all fell apart.

Given that, it seems we aren't talking about what Leinart did in Arizona in the years leading up to this camp and we're not talking about his arm strength or other physical aspects of playing quarterback. We are talking about Matt's leadership and confidence and there's no doubt that the two go hand-in-hand.

Football isn't basketball, but we've seen in Phoenix with the Suns' Alvin Gentry how much a coach can do to give his guys that boost. Instead of propping Matt up and giving him that confidence, Whisenhunt's thrown Leinart to the wolves and now suddenly everyone who previously was fine with "Hollywood Matt" is jumping off the bandwagon.

We all knew that Leinart was no Kurt Warner. The plan all along was to run the ball more and change the way the team played and yet people are critical of Matt, who doesn't have the strongest of arms anyway, for not throwing the ball down the field.

How does that make sense?

In limited snaps, Leinart did play it safe, but he never had time to get into any kind of rhythm on those first two games and needless to say, the entire offense wasn't exactly clicking at that point. He acted like a guy who was secure in his job and was trying to work on things in the preseason.

Kurt Warner himself certainly seems to understand this:

I don't know exactly the feeling within the locker room. The feeling around the community is simply that they were looking for someone to step in and do exactly what I did or our team did the last three years. It wasn't going to happen. Matt is a guy who hasn't played in a while, a young guy, still growing into the position. There was no way you can expect him to come out and do the things that I have done, especially right away.

He has been very efficient in training camp. He hasn't made a lot of mistakes. The one thing that I think people are looking at is, he has not made a lot of big plays, the impressive plays, the things that make you say, 'Wow.' I think that is the unfortunate part about it, if they have made that decision, that he didn't get the opportunity to get out there in a game, manage a game and do what he can to help them win.

Leinart's teammates probably weren't comfortable with him yet, but that wasn't ever going to happen until the team had success in games that matter. By replacing him so publicly as the starter, Whisenhunt only made the problem worse.

Leinart is certainly not going to win over the locker room now without the backing of his coach and that ship has sailed. 

Maybe Whisenhunt is right that Leinart just doesn't have the stones to be an NFL starting quarterback despite what he said in July. We probably won't really know until Leinart gets a chance to play somewhere else and, at this point, that's the best outcome.

If you don't trust him to start the season at this point then the Cardinals might as well cut Leinart and turn their attention to developing John Skelton and Max Hall.

Leinart will get picked up somewhere and hopefully we will find out if he can play the position. It certainly doesn't seem like he's going to even have the opportunity to fail here in Arizona.

 

Audio: Whisenhunt talking about Leinart on XTRA 910 radio July 15