Monkey off Whisenhunt's Back With Win

Kurt Warner (Newman Lowrance/Getty)

Eyebrows were raised when coach Ken Whisenhunt decided to start quarterback Kurt Warner in Kansas City in the second preseason game. Whisenhunt cautioned everyone not to read anything into the move, saying it was just a way for coaches to ensure that Warner received enough snaps. But it was a curious move, to say the least.

After all, a backup became the starter. And the starter, Matt Leinart, became the backup. It's not as if Leinart is a grizzled veteran, either. He missed 11 games last season after suffering a fractured collarbone and can use all the snaps he can get.

Warner played two series in the 27-17 victory over the Chiefs, guiding the Cardinals to a touchdown drive on his second possession. After an errant throw in the first drive, Warner looked sharp, picking up where he left off last season when he passed for 27 touchdowns.

Leinart struggled when he first entered the game, too, but settled down and took the team on a long touchdown drive to start the third quarter. At the end of the night, it was hard to tell if anything had changed in the quarterback situation, and Whisenhunt didn't seem anxious to change his mindset: Leinart is his starter, but Warner is pushing him.

"On the surface, I'd say they both played well," Whisenhunt said. "As far as running the huddle, as far as making some checks, and making some throws, especially on third downs, I thought those guys did a good job."

Warner is taking Whisenhunt at his word that there is competition for the job. While Leinart is the starter and will start the third preseason against Oakland, Warner's been assured that he has a shot to overtake the younger quarterback.

The two have looked nearly equal through training camp. Both have had good days and bad, and neither has clearly moved ahead of the other. If that remains the case, Whisenhunt will stick with Leinart.

Warner knows the job is going to be difficult to win in the weeks before the start of the season. Playing time is limited, and besides, coaches already know what he can do. At 37, he has a resume, and his most recent job performance - passing for 27 touchdowns last year - is fresh in everyone's mind.

So he wasn't necessarily looking at the start against the Chiefs as his last chance to convince Whisenhunt that Leinart is the quarterback of the future, not the present.

"I'm really just trying to get ready for the season," Warner said, "but obviously every game you come in, you want to play well and leave your teammates and your coaches with the confidence that you can go out and play."

Leinart has said all the right things about Whisenhunt's handling of the situation. It would be human nature, however, to be unhappy about being the starter, yet sharing snaps in training camp practices and not starting a preseason game.

"Preseason is a little different, obviously," he said. "I knew the rotation going in (to the Chiefs game). You have to stay focused and when the time comes, go take advantage of it."

CAMP CALENDAR: Camp ends Aug. 21. All training camp practices will be held at Northern Arizona University and are open and free to the public.

PLAYER NOTES

--The Cardinals linebackers, led by Travis LaBoy, have a sort of championship belt that's going to be awarded each week to the top player at the position. At the end of the year, the best linebacker will get to keep the belt and a replica will be auctioned off. The linebackers say LaBoy paid between $10,000 and $20,000 to have the belt made.

--Receiver Larry Fitzgerald and quarterbacks Matt Leinart and Kurt Warner are tooling around training camp at Northern Arizona University on Segways. Fitzgerald hooked up his quarterbacks with the machines through a connection with a Scottsdale dealer. Coach Ken Whisenhunt took a brief tutorial in a school parking lot and emerged unscathed. Whisenhunt plans to stick with walking to practice and to the cafeteria, however.

--There had been no scuffles in nearly three weeks at training camp, but all heck broke loose in the team's final night practice in Flagstaff. LaBoy started it by shoving backup quarterback Brian St. Pierre, who took offense. Soon, the whole team was in a scrum. Later, safety Adrian Wilson continued matters with a strong hit, to which the offense took exception. No damage was done and Whisenhunt was smiling later at the session's intensity.

--Receiver Anquan Boldin recently returned to practice after missing a couple of weeks with a hamstring injury. Quarterback Matt Leinart doesn't figure it will take long to get his timing back with the Pro Bowl receiver. "You can always get better, obviously," Leinart said. "I'm not worried about that. This is my third year with him. Anquan is Anquan. You know what you are going to get. He's going to be at the right depth every time. He's going to run his routes hard, and all those things."

QUOTE TO NOTE: "Well, I guess the monkey is off by my back a little bit, huh?" -- Coach Ken Whisenhunt after a 27-17 victory over the Chiefs gave him his first preseason victory in six games.

STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL

--RB Marcel Shipp's release saved the team $1.75 million against the salary cap. The Cardinals are about $3.75 million under the cap now. --OL Brandon Keith, the seventh-round pick, has been moved to guard, at least temporarily. Keith had been working at right tackle until the club suffered some recent injuries. Coaches want to work him at left tackle, too, before the preseason is over. They don't want to overload him, however, so he likely will just stay at left tackle for a few practices.

--DL Bryan Robinson, a 12-year veteran, could prove to be the most important pickup of the off-season. He's starting at nose tackle in place of the injured DT Gabe Watson, who is expected to return to practice soon. Robinson's regular position is end, and coaches think he will be invaluable because of his ability to play two spots.

-QB Kurt Warner isn't close to re-signing with the club, as both sides have decided to wait to see if he wins the starting job. The central challenge to a new deal is determining how to pay Warner if he's a backup and if he's the starter.

--WR Anquan Boldin won't receive a new deal any time soon. The club isn't actively negotiating with any of its veterans at this time. GM Rod Graves wants to get through the preseason and see how the roster develops before he resumes negotiating.

--LB Brandon Moore was signed to bolster the depth at inside linebacker. Moore signed with the Cardinals two days after being released by the 49ers. Cardinals linebackers coach Bill Davis coached Moore in San Francisco, so the Cardinals know what they are getting.

--LB David Holloway was released to make room for Moore, the brother of former Cardinals receiver Rob Moore.

BATTLE OF THE WEEK: Veteran FB Terrelle Smith is holding off Tim Castille, a second-year pro, for the starting job. Castille ran some with the starters in the off-season, but Smith has the edge because he's a proven blocker. If it comes down to money, Castille could be the choice. Castille is also a better receiver and runner, while Smith is the better blocker.

OTHER BATTLE FRONTS: RG Deuce Lutui looks like he'll be the starter at right tackle. Elton Brown was challenging for the job, but he's working mostly on the left side now, as Reggie Wells' backup. FS Antrel Rolle doesn't seem in danger of losing his starting job. Aaron Francisco has looked shaky in pass coverage, and that should be an area in which Rolle excels.

PLAYER OF THE WEEK: WR Jerheme Urban made a strong push for the No. 3 job behind Anquan Boldin and Larry Fitzgerald. Urban struggled last year to make difficult catches in traffic but has looked better in that area this summer. Urban has excellent speed and size and is an inviting target both down the middle and on the sidelines, provided he can catch with defenders on him. So far, so good.

ROOKIE REPORT: DE Calais Campbell started at left end in place of the injured Darnell Dockett last week and played well. Campbell, the second-round pick, has been impressive in camp, as has DE Kenny Iwebema, a fourth-round selection. ... WR Early Doucet's bid to win the No. 3 receiver's job has been set back by his hamstring injury. Coaches hope Doucet can get in two or three weeks of work before the opener.

... OL Brandon Keith, a seventh-round pick, has been impressive in training camp. He has played both right tackle and right guard and played well. ... LB Ali Highsmith, an undrafted rookie, continues to impress. Highsmith could well make this roster, meaning a veteran linebacker such as Matt Stewart or Monty Beisel could be released.

INJURY REPORT: C Al Johnson might not return until the second week of the season after undergoing knee surgery last month. His replacement, Lyle Sendlein, is a good player and there isn't much drop-off.

--WR Anquan Boldin has returned from a hamstring strain.

--NT Gabe Watson is expected to practice after the team breaks camp this week. Watson missed camp while recovering from a fractured kneecap suffered in a treadmill mishap this summer.

--LB Monty Beisel has returned from back surgery.

--WR Early Doucet has a hamstring strain and has missed both preseason games.

--DE Darnell Dockett missed the second preseason game because of a strained pectoral muscle. It's not believed to be serious.

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