Coach Ken Whisenhunt hasn't often praised quarterback Matt Leinart over the past three years. Whisenhunt traditionally isn't effusive with compliments about any players, but he's been especially demanding of Leinart. That seems to have changed this spring with Leinart's ascendency to the starting job. While Whisenhunt hasn't gone out of his way to rave about Leinart, he has been positive in his reviews.
"It's obvious to me he's more comfortable with the whole process, not just throwing a pass or knowing where guys line up," Whisenhunt said. "He understands the concepts of the plays and he has the ability to get us in and out of certain plays -- all those things you see more assuredness from him. I am excited with what he has done in the OTAs (organized team activities) so far."
Leinart was inconsistent early in voluntary practices, but has shown steady improvement over the past week. He's thrown more accurately and appears to have more zip on his passes. That could be a result of considerable work with quarterbacks coach Chris Miller, who believes much of Leinart's struggles with accuracy were a result of poor footwork. Leinart tended to over-stride, which caused his throws to sail.
Confidence plays a huge part, too. Leinart has admitted his self-esteem took a hit over the past two years, when he lost the starting job to Kurt Warner and remained the backup. He was inconsistent in spot duty last season, but played well in his only start, a loss at Tennessee. Leinart said "he paid his dues" the last two years and is ready to lead the team.
"I'm just feeling good every time I'm coming out here," he said. "My confidence is back. It's hard to explain. It's one of those things where I feel like I'm good and I got to just keep progressing. I just know it's coming to me a lot easier than it ever has."
Of course, all of this will have no significance if Leinart plays poorly in training camp or during the regular season. The Cardinals don't have a viable option right now if Leinart fails. Backup Derek Anderson has a strong arm, but he's struggled with accuracy in the off-season, too. The other two quarterbacks on the roster are rookies, John Skelton and Max Hall, and they aren't ready to play in a game.
Whisenhunt won't dismiss the possibility of bringing in veteran Marc Bulger, but it seems the time has passed for doing that. If the Cardinals bring in Bulger, Leinart's future with the team would be over. Don't look for that to happen.
Outside linebacker Joey Porter, a free-agent signing, is expected to add leadership to the defensive side of the ball. But Porter is taking his time in taking on that role. He's cognizant of his short tenure with the team, and wants to learn the scheme and earn the trust of his teammates before voicing too many opinions.
For now, Porter is content to just learn the defense and how he fits into it. At 33, Porter could be on the decline, but the Cardinals need him to be an elite edge rusher again. One of the defense's weaknesses last season was the lack of an edge pass rusher who could be single blocks. Porter said he has always kept himself in great shape, and he's confident he can fill that role.
Entering his 12th season in the league, Porter has the credibility to make suggestions to coaches. But he's going to be judicious in doing that, too. If he makes a suggestion, he said, the motivation will be to help the team, not just improve his individual situation.
"I don't really try to just go off something that's just going to help me," he said. "This is about helping everybody. If there's a way we can do it easier as a team, I will voice my opinion, but the foundation of how they run a defense is already here. I'm just a piece of the puzzle.
"I think Billy Davis (defensive coordinator) does a good job. I'm just trying to make sure I know what he wants me to do."
The Cardinals extended a qualifying offer to guard Deuce Lutui, a restricted free agent. The Cardinals retain exclusive rights to Lutui, who has yet to sign the $1.76 million offer. If Lutui doesn't sign by June 15, the Cardinals can replace it with one worth about $588,000.
Guard Alan Faneca is from New Orleans and now owns a home about an hour from the Gulf of Mexico. He's sickened by the oil that continues to flow out of the BP pipeline." It just makes you fed up," Faneca said. "Everyone where I live, they live off the water. So what do you say? It's on-going. It upsets you.
"I love how they get excited about, 'You know this thing is going to do it (plug the leak),'" Faneca said. "How excited can you be if it's the ninth thing you thought of to stop it?"
Backup guard/center Rex Hadnot suffered an injury to his left knee midway through voluntary practice on Wednesday. Hadnot injured the same knee last summer with the Browns and struggled through the first part of the season with the injury.
Tight end Jim Dray, the team's seventh-round pick in the draft, "tweaked" his right leg, he said. Dray suffered a severe left knee injury at Stanford.
Tim Hightower has been the No. 1 running back through off-season drills, with Beanie Wells holding down the second spot. Whisenhunt isn't committing to keeping that depth chart intact into the season. "This is a whole new season," Whisenhunt said. "We've got a lot of time before we have to make any decisions with that. Both guys are good football players."
Whisenhunt likes his corps of backs, which includes LaRod Stephens-Howling, the third down back; and Jason Wright, who can also play some fullback.
Whisenhunt called the running backs "very good players that we can do some different things with. That's all tied into the offensive front. I think we have made great progress with the offensive line ... and I'm excited at how that all ties together."