Matt Leinart fitted for new shoes
Standing 6’5 and 230 pounds, Matt Leinart possesses the prototypical build of the modern quarterback. His appearance as a southpaw requires just a minor blindside adjustment, and didn’t prevent the Cardinals from drafting him as their quarterback of the future. With Kurt Warner announcing his retirement on Friday, the future instantaneously arrives today. And with it comes a familiar place for the successor, as Leinart will again sink his smaller feet into bigger shoes, in hopes of making them fit.
Before becoming a household name, Matt Leinart was a little known quarterback that managed to leap-frog Matt Cassel to become USC’s starter in 2003. At the time, he was following the greatest signal caller in the program’s history, with Carson Palmer being the first Heisman Trophy winning quarterback from the institution most recognizable as “Tailback U”. Palmer, under the guidance of Pete Carroll and Norm Chow, assisted in lifting the program from futility and returning it to national prominence. When Leinart grabbed the reins, no one knew what to expect, and hoped he could just stabilize on a foundation already built. As it turned out, his feet grew bigger than the hand-me-down footwear Palmer left behind.
Palmer lost two games in his final year at USC, capped with an Orange Bowl victory and the school finishing with a top-5 ranking. It was a bar set high for his followers, but Leinart not only reached it, he lifted it to a nearly untouchable level. Where Carson Palmer was once viewed as the greatest quarterback in Trojan history, Leinart easily became one of the greatest in the history of college football. There isn’t another that can match his resume that includes a 37-2 overall record as a starter, two national championships, and a Heisman Trophy. Palmer brought USC into position. Leinart took them over the top.
He now inherits a situation in Arizona that is similar. He will replace a Hall of Fame quarterback that lifted the Arizona Cardinals to the highest level in their history. With the Red Birds appearing as the Super Bowl runner up in 2008, and making a follow-up playoff appearance in ’09, Leinart will be asked to stabilize current success and eventually take it higher.
With multiple critics gathered nationwide, there isn’t much confidence for success. But of course, he faced those same doubts in 2003. Since his arrival in Arizona, he’s been unfairly scrutinized, which led to his bearing the label of a draft bust. But he isn’t Brady Quinn or Vince Young, who were benched in favor of average quarterbacks. Leinart sat as an understudy to one of the best that played the game, and his situation is more comparable to Aaron Rodgers in Green Bay.
Unless there is a trade or the acquisition of someone that will seriously challenge for the start in Arizona, the 2010 NFL season will open with four former Trojans starting at quarterback. Justin Fargas represents the only starting running back among the 32 franchises, which further reveals the transformation of the modern game and “Tailback U”. Carson Palmer and Matt Cassel came before, and Mark Sanchez came after. Now it’s time for Matt Leinart to solidify his place among the league’s hurlers, and lead the Cardinals into the future.