Green: Careful, Whiz
Matt Leinart’s days as an Arizona Cardinal appear to be numbered.
Though not officially benched for Derek Anderson, the language from both Leinart and head coach Ken Whisenhunt appear to lean in that direction. While I may disagree with the decision, as I wrote last week I trust Whisenhunt and will thereby support the move.
However, that trust was earned by making all the right moves before – especially starting Kurt Warner before the 2008 season – and if this move backfires the faith he’s acquired will slowly dissipate.
You know the adage, that coaches are hired so that they can be fired? Well, nobody is saying Whisenhunt’s job is in danger, or that it should be, but this move could easily be the greatest mistake he’s made since arriving in the Valley.
Sure, Leinart has never been “Whisenhunt’s guy.” Drafted by Dennis Green, Leinart was the incumbent starter when the new staff came in, struggled with a new offense, footwork and injuries, and was ultimately replaced by Warner. Warner was so excellent that nobody really worried about Leinart’s progression; instead, I think it was assumed that he was learning over the course of the last few seasons and would be ready to take over once Old Greybeard called it a career.
Apparently that’s not the case.
With Whisenhunt ready to go another direction from Leinart, again, only this time without a future Hall of Famer to turn to, speaks volumes of how little confidence he has that Leinart isn’t even a decent quarterback, but won’t ever be. And that, right there, will open the Whiz up for questions.
Because, let’s be honest, Leinart will find his way onto another NFL roster. Some coach out there…cough…Pete Carroll…cough….will look at Leinart’s time in Arizona, remember an impressive rookie on a lousy team as well as his Heisman Trophy-winning background and decide to give him a shot. Will he succeed? Well, according to Whisenhunt, probably not.
But, worst case scenario, what if he does? What if Leinart rediscovers the magic that he had at USC and starts tossing touchdowns all over the field? What if the former first rounder, playing for cough…Pete Carroll…cough…becomes the guy Dennis Green thought he was (get it?), only for a division rival?
That’s not a given, but what we do know is it seems that Ken Whisenhunt and the Cardinals are prepared to part ways with Leinart so they can keep two rookie QBs on the roster. Being drafted late, or not at all, does not assure that a young QB will never pan out, but a guy like Tom Brady is the exception that proves the rule.
Of course, neither John Skelton nor Max Hall will be starting for the Cardinals September 12th when they visit the Rams. That job, it would appear, will belong to Derek Anderson. You know, the guy with a career QB rating of 69.7, with 46 touchdowns against 45 interceptions. Yeah, the guy who won a game last year while completing just 2 of 17 passes. Is Anderson just a stopgap solution until Hall or Skelton is ready? Perhaps. But this move will be looked at as Whisenhunt choosing Anderson over Leinart, and that’s a bold move to make at this point in the season.
Here’s where Whisenhunt’s decision, if it is the way he goes, could come back to haunt him. If he decided to go with Leinart to start the season then, if he struggled, it would be an easy sell to say the team gave him a chance and he just doesn’t have what it takes. It might be a tough pill to swallow, especially for Cardinals fans who had hoped Leinart was the QB of the future since the moment he was drafted, but it would be something that could not really be argued against.
However, by going with Anderson, Whisenhunt is basically saying DA is better than Leinart, so if Anderson struggles (which I’m betting he will) the second guessing will be swift and harsh. People could easily question why the former first rounder, who had been in the system for four seasons, did not get a legitimate opportunity to sink or swim when the games counted, especially after Leinart appears, as he has said, to have outplayed Anderson over the last month or so.
In three seasons Ken Whisenhunt has taken the team to new heights, earning our trust. He’s seemingly made the right call on every tough decision so far, allowing us to overlook some “minor” mistakes, such as taking Levi Brown over Adrian Peterson, drafting Buster Davis in the 3rd round only to cut him before he ever played a down, and trading up for Alan Branch. After all, winning cures all ills, and the Cardinals have done plenty of that in Whisenhunt’s tenure. But if the winning stops for the Cardinals, but not Matt Leinart, the unquestioned faith and goodwill the coach has built will slip away nearly as quickly as he acquired it.
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