Leinart to make Cards debut vs. Pats on Saturday

Updated: August 18, 2006, 9:53 AM ET
Associated Press

FLAGSTAFF, Ariz. -- A relieved and ever-smiling Matt Leinart joined the Arizona Cardinals training camp on Tuesday, and quickly learned he would be playing at New England in four days.

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"My dream has been to play in the NFL," he said. "What better way to kick off an NFL career -- whether it's one play or a couple of series -- than against the Patriots."

Late Monday night, Leinart signed a six-year contract that guarantees the former Heisman Trophy winner $14 million. Leinart, who could earn as much as $51 million, is the last first-round draft pick to sign.

"I feel good, I'm ready," he said at a news conference before his first practice. "This is my job now and I've got to take responsibility for all of that. I'm ready to go. I'm ready to work. I'm ready to get better. I'm ready to catch up with the other guys."

He took a physical in Tempe, then headed up I-17 to the Cardinals' camp at Northern Arizona University.

"I can't even describe how I'm feeling," Leinart said. "I was like a little kid driving today. I drove by myself, a two-hour drive in the woods and the trees, taking in the scenery, then just being out here with my teammates. I just can't wait to get out there and practice."

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Both he and coach Dennis Green brushed aside Green's sharply critical remarks about Leinart's holdout on Monday.

"I didn't take offense to it," Leinart said. "Every coach wants his players in camp, on the team, to be at practice and all of that. Now it's over with and we put it behind us. That's what we talked about today."

Green said he probably should have skipped his media session on Monday, given his dark mood, "but I had to get it off my chest."

What a difference a day makes. The coach was downright jolly on Tuesday.

"I wasn't angry. I was excitable," he said. "I just felt we wanted him to get here and help us win and help him become a good football player. That's really my job as a coach, to create an atmosphere where guys can develop as a player. It's hard to do that if the player's not here."

Both said Green's outburst had no impact on the talks.

Green has yet to determine how much Leinart will play Saturday, but was confident the left-handed rookie would make up for the time he missed. Leinart took part in all of the team's workouts this spring and summer.

"In this day and age, you get a lot of work in April and May and June," Green said. "Of course, he's very talented. He's been in a pro system. I think he'll make it up pretty quickly. He'll have a chance to play in three preseason games, and I think he'll be ready when the regular season starts."

"I was like a little kid driving today. I drove by myself, a two-hour drive in the woods and the trees, taking in the scenery, then just being out here with my teammates. I just can't wait to get out there and practice."
Matt Leinart

Leinart will room with starter Kurt Warner for his brief training camp stay. The last workout in the cool pines of Flagstaff will be Thursday. Practices shift to the team's facility in Tempe next week.

For now, Leinart is locked in a competition for the No. 2 quarterback spot with John Navarre, who threw two interceptions in the team's 21-13 victory over Pittsburgh on Saturday.

That game unveiled the $455 million Cardinals Stadium, where Leinart is expected to eventually hold a starring role.

Leinart took snaps with the second team in his first workout, and stayed in a light rain for some extra work after most of the players left. As he left the field, he tossed his wrist bands to a couple of youngsters, then stayed to sign autographs.

It has been a tumultuous ride for the former USC star, who might have been the No. 1 pick a year ago after leading USC to its second national title, but returned to the Trojans for his senior year. The team lost to Texas in last season's national championship game, and Leinart surprisingly fell to Arizona's No. 10 pick in the draft.

He was the second quarterback chosen, behind Texas' Vince Young, taken at No. 3 by Tennessee.

Leinart said he doesn't second-guess his decision to play another year at USC.

"Never," he said. "I don't even really think about that. It doesn't cross my mind. I did the best decision for me, and I don't regret it. We were a half-yard away from winning three in a row. That's the way it goes."

Joining the pass-oriented offense of Green, with two of the most talented young receivers in the NFL in Anquan Boldin and Larry Fitzgerald, eases any disappointment that might linger from his draft-day fall.

"It wasn't how I planned it, but I learned so much," Leinart said. "I'm so happy to be in Arizona. You don't even understand. It's a great place for a quarterback to be."

Copyright 2006 by The Associated Press