Best Player Will Play In Season Opener At SF

Kurt Warner and Matt Leinart

The making of Matt Leinart into an NFL quarterback might have become a restoration project rather than a development. Leinart struggled last week against Oakland in the third and most important preseason game, and his confidence appears to be suffering.It came at a time when Leinart should be solidifying his position as a starter, not prompting serious doubts about his ability to lead this team.

Matt Leinart completed just four of 12 passes and had three interceptions. All were the result of poor throws and poor decisions.

That leaves coach Ken Whisenhunt with little choice but to start Kurt Warner in the regular-season opener in San Francisco. Whisenhunt has said throughout the offseason that the best player would play, and it would be hard for him to go with Leinart and maintain credibility with the players.

But Whisenhunt still thinks Leinart can be a good quarterback. He said last week that this wasn't a "make or break year" for the young quarterback, meaning losing the starting job wouldn't necessarily make him a bust.

After the Raiders game last week, Whisenhunt went out of his way to try and bail out his young quarterback.

Whisenhunt blamed receivers for some of the problems, because they didn't use proper technique. And, he said, one game won't determine Leinart's job status.

"This is a process," he said. "This is part of the process, how Matt handles this and how he responds to this. You are not going to play great every week. We understand that.

"It wasn't all Matt. I know, from seeing it on the field, where our receivers went to the wrong side of the (defensive backs) and didn't follow what they're supposed to on their assignments."

Whisenhunt also pointed out that he's not going to allow one poor performance to overshadow the progress he thinks Leinart has made through the offseason.

Whisenhunt might be trying to salvage Leinart's confidence, knowing that Leinart likely will have to play some time this season.

Judging by his immediate reaction, Leinart didn't handle his performance well. After the game, he had showered, dressed and departed before reporters reached the locker room.

Warner won't win any MVP awards with his performance against Oakland, either, but he was competent. He attempted only four passes, completing two. And his cause was helped by the running game, which was much better when he played than when Leinart was in the game.

Whisenhunt has preached patience in evaluating the position, using the word "process" consistently.

"I think it is a process," Warner said. "The unfortunate thing, or the difficult thing, is that I don't know if any of us know what that whole process is. That's coach's process and what all goes into it, and what he's looking at and what's going to be the determining factor when it's all said and done, I don't think any of us has any idea."

Warner, meanwhile, has tried not to concern himself with the quarterback controversy. He's not comfortable with his preseason performances so far, saying he needs to slow down and show some patience. With limited playing time, Warner said he's trying to do too much, too fast.

"That's not how I want to play," he said. "My whole objective is just getting myself ready, get myself comfortable for that first game, if my number is called."

PLAYER NOTES

--The Cardinals are refraining from responding in kind to WR Anquan Boldin's recent criticisms of the organization and coach Ken Whisenhunt.

Boldin has ripped the team, accusing general manager Rod Graves and others of reneging on a promise to sign him to an extension this offseason. Boldin is upset with Whisenhunt because he thinks the coach stepped over the line by becoming involved in negotiations.

Boldin has asked for a trade, but the Cardinals have consistently refused. Boldin is going nowhere, at least in 2008.

--RG Deuce Lutui appears to have held off Elton Brown's challenge for his starting job. Lutui's inconsistencies have troubled coaches, but he has a tremendous upside.

--FB Tim Castille appears to have beaten out Terrelle Smith for the starting job. The two are vastly different in style. Smith is a fierce blocker, in essence a guard in the backfield. Castille is not nearly as good a blocker, but he has some receiving skills and the club has taken advantage of those in the preseason.

--RB Tim Hightower, the fifth-round pick, has scored touchdowns in each of the three preseason games. He made several nice runs against Oakland last week. While he won't replace Edgerrin James as the starter, Hightower could get 100 or so rushing attempts this year.

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