Leinart Still in Holding Pattern

Matt Leinart isn’t too Hollywood after all.

As the only unsigned first-round pick in this year’s rookie class, the would-be leading man for the Arizona Cardinals is more like a top-notch independent film -- smart, original, and you can’t find it playing anywhere.

Leinart, the former USC quarterback selected 10th overall, has sat out the first two weeks of training camp and -- barring an overnight breakthrough -- won’t be around today when the Cardinals play their exhibition debut at their new stadium.

Missing any time is dicey for a rookie quarterback, considering there’s so much to learn, and non-starting rookie quarterbacks typically take most of their snaps early in camp. After that, the majority of the repetitions go to the starter, which in the case of Arizona is 35-year-old Kurt Warner.


It’s worth noting that a lot of high-profile players sat out at least two weeks of their rookie camps, among them quarterbacks Drew Brees, Philip Rivers and Byron Leftwich. And Leinart, who won the Heisman Trophy in 2004, is known for being a quick study.

“He’s still really in good position to be able to help the team when called upon,” said agent Chuck Price, who with Tom Condon represents Leinart. “It’s still early enough that [the time away from camp] wouldn’t make a difference with Matt.... The opportunity is there to step in and lead the team.”

When Leinart signs, he’ll almost certainly enter camp as the No. 3 quarterback behind Warner and backup John Navarre, the Cardinals’ No. 3 for the last two seasons.

Leinart has been traveling back and forth between California and Arizona in recent weeks, and he has committed most if not all of the Arizona playbook to memory.

To keep his passing sharp, he has been throwing to West Los Angeles College receivers on their home turf, and to free-agent receiver Az Hakim, another Price client. Among the spectators who have watched those sessions are the West L.A. receivers’ parents, many of whom have brought keepsakes for Leinart to autograph.

“They’ll have him sign newspaper articles, mini-helmets, footballs,” Price said. “Every time he’s been there, he’s signed something for somebody.”

What he has yet to sign, of course, is a contract. The Cardinals have hinted that’s because Leinart is having a hard time accepting that he wasn’t picked earlier than 10th.

“I know this: There were 10 picks,” Coach Dennis Green told reporters this week. “We got our 10th pick and we got our player. We had 10th-pick money. Everybody’s got to get used to being the 10th pick.”

A Bell Ringer

LaDainian Tomlinson. Larry Johnson. LaMont Jordan. Across the board, no division in football has better running backs than the AFC West. In Denver’s plug-and-play offense, though, it always seems to be a new guy bursting onto the scene.

This season, that new guy could be Mike Bell, an undrafted rookie from Arizona who already has worked his way up to the No. 1 tailback job. He leapfrogged Ron Dayne and Tatum Bell (no relation) last week to move into the top spot. Many observers were startled by that, and so, frankly, was Mike Bell himself.

When he was called into Mike Shanahan’s office at training camp to hear the news, he was even thinking the coach might ask him to turn in his playbook.

“I was thinking the worst,” Bell told reporters.

Instead, Shanahan delivered the good news. This to a player who never had a 1,000-yard season in four years as a starter at Arizona, and who never ran faster than a 4.6-second 40-yard dash for NFL scouts. Then, the phone didn’t ring until after the final round of the draft.

“On draft day, I felt like quitting football,” he said. “Now I’m on cloud nine.”

The depth-chart shuffling is especially frustrating for Tatum Bell, who’s backing up Mike Bell in practice. Tatum, who last summer accused the Broncos of “handing” the starter’s job to Mike Anderson, says he feels it should have been his job to lose this summer.

“They don’t think I can be the man, period,” he said. “They don’t think I can do 25 carries.... They don’t trust me.”

Losing His Grip

It’s still mystifying why the Houston Texans didn’t take Reggie Bush with the top pick. On a somewhat related note, did you know the oft-clobbered David Carr led the league with 17 fumbles last season? That’s two more than the combined total of fellow AFC quarterbacks Tom Brady, Peyton Manning, Ben Roethlisberger and Jake Plummer.

Defending Their Turf

Seattle already had an outstanding offense, and now the Seahawks appear to be building a solid defense to go with it. The addition of linebacker Julian Peterson, defensive tackle Russell Davis, safety Mike Green -- and the return of safety Ken Hamlin, who was nearly beaten to death in a street fight last fall -- has beefed up a unit that last season finished tied for 16th in yards given up.

“Our offense knows what we can do, and any time our defense gives us any kind of trouble at all, we start to realize how this is just a good defense that we have,” said running back Shaun Alexander, the league’s reigning most valuable player. “And it’s exciting. Because we know they’re going to make us better, and at the same time we’re making them better.”

A Record Run

Is this the season someone rushes for 2,200 yards or intercepts 15 passes? STATS LLC points out that between the 2001 and 2005 seasons, some of the NFL’s more significant single-season records were set.

In 2001, the New York Giants’ Michael Strahan had 22.5 sacks. In 2002, Oakland’s Rich Gannon completed 418 passes, and Indianapolis’ Marvin Harrison caught 143 balls.

Manning, who connected with Harrison on those, set records in 2004 with 49 touchdown passes and a 121.1 rating. Also that year, Baltimore’s Ed Reed rolled up 358 yards in interception returns.

Last season, Seattle’s Alexander scored 28 touchdowns, and Arizona’s Neil Rackers kicked 40 field goals.

Big D Means Dallas

The Dallas Cowboys of a few years ago relied on lighter, quicker defenders to get the job done. The unit was loaded with undersized overachievers such as La’Roi Glover, Dexter Coakley and Dat Nguyen. Over the last few seasons, that has been changing. This season’s front seven averages nearly 20 pounds more per defensive lineman, and 14 pounds more per linebacker than the group from three years ago.

“Bigger is better if you can run,” Coach Bill Parcells said. “This is a big man’s game. There are so many big people on the planet. You need to get them stationed somewhere along your offensive and defensive lines.”

First-Round Knockdowns

One of the most compelling stories in the league this season is quarterback Vince Young, and how he’ll fare making the transition from the Texas Longhorns to the Tennessee Titans. Was it a mistake for Tennessee to draft him instead of the more conventional Matt Leinart, or will the astoundingly elusive Young rip through the NFL the way he shredded USC’s defense in the Rose Bowl?

Two weeks into the Titans’ training camp, Young observers say he looks great on one play, ragged on the next, and he’s getting a lot of his passes knocked down at the line of scrimmage. He has a low release, and it seems to get even lower when he dumps off short passes to running backs or tight ends. Plus, he has been recovering from a minor groin strain.

Norm Chow, the Titans’ offensive coordinator, said Young has been bombarded lately by a playbook full of information. But, Chow told reporters, “Once we get off that a little bit and start game-planning, he’s going to be fine.”

Exactly how fine the Titans will be remains to be seen.