Behind Enemy Lines: Cardinals/49ers, Part II

Matt Leinart (Chris McGrath/Getty)

In Part II of an exclusive four-part offseason series, AZRedReport.com's Amberly Richardson and SFIllustrated.com's Craig Massei continue their back-and-forth analysis with five questions from Craig to Amberly. Is Matt too Hollywood for the NFL? Are the Cardinals buying what Ken Whisenhunt is selling? Which training camp battles are the hottest? These questions answered and more...

Craig Massei, Editor in Chief, SFIllustrated.com: So what's up with Matt Leinart? Is he too busy hanging out with partygirls on the Internet and moonlighting as an unwed father to ever take playing quarterback for the Cardinals seriously? Is the former Heisman Trophy winner from USC simply too Hollywood to ever amount to anything as a legitimate NFL starting quarterback?

Amberly Richardson, Publisher, AZRedReport.com: I am probably more lenient on Leinart than most in terms of his offseason antics, but Coach Ken Whisenhunt sure isn't. Leinart's not Whisenhunt's guy. He didn't draft him, so he wouldn't be afraid to move on to the next big ticket quarterback in the 2009 NFL Draft.


QB Matt Leinart
Victor Decolongon/Getty

Entering his third season with little to no production, Leinart understands that the honeymoon with the Cardinals organization is over. The bad press surrounding the picture of him holding a beer bong for a young "lady" and other college behavior seems to be the wakeup call he needed.

Since then he's said that he knows it's time to step up, he's gotten a slap on the wrist. I think it's time to move on. If he earns his stripes this year then the partying won't be an issue, but if he throws more picks than touchdown passes the chatter will resume.

CM: That said, we hear that coach Ken Whisenhunt already has named Leinart his No. 1 guy at quarterback over veteran Kurt Warner. How is the competition at QB playing out, and what's your take on who will be the guy and - more importantly - who should be the guy?

AR: Just days into the offseason Whisenhunt named Leinart the starting quarterback. Although Whisenhunt is sticking by his decision, it was more of a company line.

Warner stepped in and did a good job for the Cardinals and is more than capable of doing it again this season if Leinart doesn't find his rhythm, but it's Leinart's team. Warner likely has just one or two years left in him. This is Leinart's season to prove that he can be the face of the franchise like they drafted him to be.

As for what I personally think of the situation I would have to agree with verdict. Leinart was starting to make progress when he was hurt in week five. Whisenhunt said he's not a believer in players losing their starting jobs because of injury, I would have to agree.

Arizona just cut to the chase and squashed the speculation of how the QB situation would pan out. The Cardinals straight-forward approach is much appreciated, but if Leinart disappoints fingers will somehow be pointed at Whisenhunt. Both are aware that this season could make or break them both.

CM: Now that it's the second year of the Whisenhunt regime, how much more comfortable does the team look now in the second year of his program? Does everybody seem to be buying into his plan, and is his plan a good one?


Ken Whisenhunt
Associated Press

Whisenhunt had a plan when he came in and not everybody believed the plan would work, but the Bidwills and General Manager Rod Graves really supported him. That was the trickle effect that Whisenhunt needed for most to buy into his ideas early on. As far as his coaching staff, the familiar faces he brought in to get the job done weren't going to argue.

A year later players understand what Whisenhunt wants from them and they believe in his vision. He's starting to establish a culture and some of the leaders like Larry Fitzgerald, Anquan Boldin, Adrian Wilson, Darnell Dockett and Reggie Wells stepped up in terms of getting their teammates on board. Winning the last two games also helps with the excitement level moving forward. The Cardinals are buying into whatever Whisenhunt is selling.

I'm standing in line to purchase as well, but there are still many areas that need to see improvement. Whisenhunt has promised a closer rush-pass ratio, but Edgerrin James can't do it alone. He rushed for 1,222 yards last seasaon, but was kept to a 3.8 per carry average.

The O-line is hard to blame in that case. It has improved drastically in Whisenhunt's first year and should continue to see positive changes. On the other hand, I can't blame Whisenhunt for not spending the big bucks nor the big draft picks on a running back either. His time with the Pittsburgh Steelers must have taught him that the defense wins championships. There is no other way to explain his offseason additions otherwise.

CM: How did the Cardinals look at their first spring minicamp? Who were the players that stood out in particular? What was the big news to come out of the event?

AR: The Cardinals looked cohesive and ready to go. The Cardinals fifth-round pick Tim Hightower, who was a surprise pick to most, put on a show by demonstrating explosiveness and flexibility. The question still looms how he'll compliment James.

Other than that there really wasn't any big news, Matt Leinart looked solid (that might shock some). Darnell Dockett refused to comment on contract negotiations, but focused on bonding with his new teammates.

CM: What are the big positional battles going on with the Cardinals during the offseason? Is their starting lineup pretty much set, or are there a few places where there's some real open competition?

AR: There are a lot of places that are open for some real training camp battles. The No. 3 receiver is by no means settled, neither is the second or third running back. The Cardinals were hinting at a "home-run back" to compliment Edgerrin James, but the one they were really eyeing (Chris Johnson out of East Carolina) slipped out of their reach before they got to the second round. Marcel Shipp seems to be the shoe-in for the No. 2 back even though he rushed for just 41 yards last season. J.J. Arrington and rookie Tim Hightower are the pair that will battle it out for the active roster. Hightower's novelty will likely win that competition.

Look for some shakeups in the defensive front seven as well. Whisenhunt's whole offseason outlook was based on gathering competition to fully implement the Cardinals hybrid 3-4 scheme.

Click here to read Part I

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