Leinart ready to fill shoes left behind by Kurt Warner

Posted: Updated:

FLAGSTAFF, Ariz. (AP)—Finally, Matt Leinart gets to step out of Kurt Warner’s long shadow with a chance to show he indeed can thrive as an NFL quarterback.

The former Heisman Trophy winner emerged from the Arizona Cardinals’ first training camp workout Saturday smiling and expressing confidence that he is “fully prepared” for the job.

Cheered on by a big, enthusiastic crowd at the team’s practice fields at Northern Arizona University, Leinart seemed in perfect timing with lead receivers Larry Fitzgerald and Steve Breaston, the result he said of extensive summer practice.

“This is my fourth year in this offense,” Leinart said. “I haven’t played significantly for three years now, and I got a chance to learn and just kind of pay my dues and be patient and I do feel just mentally so far ahead. I just feel like I’m mentally there. Now it’s just taking it to the field when games come, and that’s what I’m most excited about, just to get out there and play ball.”

The left-handed quarterback enters his fifth NFL season knowing some already have written him off as a bust. He says he understands the pressure is there, but doesn’t feel it.

“I’m just excited to play again,” he said. “You know, it’s been a long time but I feel like I’ve learned so much. Honestly, I think I can tell myself I feel like I’m fully prepared.”

Leinart lost the starting job in the 2008 training camp and preseason, then watched as Warner led the team to an NFC West title and a stunning run to the Super Bowl. He was on the sidelines again a year ago, when Warner directed Arizona to a 10-6 record and another division title. He saw Warner complete 29 of 33 passes for 391 yards and five touchdowns in a 51-45 overtime playoff victory over Green Bay.

Leinart said the right things all along and never complained in public, never hinted that he might want to be traded.

“I think that’s a process that young quarterbacks have to go through sometimes,” coach Ken Whisenhunt said, “and I think it helps them ultimately become good football players. It’s not easy, especially when you’ve had the success that he had and the attention that he’s had. And it’s very difficult when there’s a lot of negativity about him, which there has been. So I know that he’s excited to get that chance to show that he can do it and be a good player.”