Cards QBs show they're not content
The Arizona Republic
Jun. 7, 2006 12:00 AM
Kurt Warner, John Navarre and Matt Leinart are throwing footballs toward garbage cans. A symbolic gesture of a team disposing of its unembraceable history? Nah, just a post-practice mano a mano a mano Tuesday among quarterbacks about to embark on a high-stakes season.
Navarre lands his toss inside the can on the first try and thrusts his fist in the air. The others groan. There is camaraderie but also fierce, competitive juices at work. Although the Cardinals quarterbacks' roles appear clear-cut, the vibe at these voluntary workouts suggest all are hearing the footsteps of expectations.
Navarre hopes to hold off Leinart for the backup job. Leinart wants to prove the future is sooner than anyone thinks. And Warner, burned by other organization's half-truths, wants to believe he is the man this season, as coach Dennis Green
"Hearing those things is a nice reassurance that they know I can still play," Warner said. "It's like, we have Matt, and Matt's here for the future and all that's great, but nobody is saying now's the future. As long as I'm here, I just pray they say: 'We'll put the best player on the field.' I can handle starting or not starting as long as it's done fairly."
Nothing suggests the Cardinals won't be true to their word, but then this is a season like no other in the team's history. With the momentum that has been built, some have wondered how management will react if the team struggles early and fans call for Leinart.
It is to Warner's benefit that Green likes his rookies to absorb the game from the sideline during the first year. After Green took Daunte Culpepper with Minnesota's first-round pick in 1999, the quarterback watched Randall Cunningham
and Jeff George share an entire season's starts before he became the full-time starter the following year.
All three quarterbacks appear to have come to these workouts at the top of their games. Warner believes he is in the best condition of his life. Navarre is 10 pounds leaner, and he said it has helped his footwork. He also has improved his throwing motion, so he's not throwing sidearm anymore.
Leinart, in his short time here, looks sharp. He has more zip to his ball than he is given credit for. He is making smart decisions and reacts like a battle-tested veteran, a credit to the high level of play at Southern California.
"Matt has asked for help on stuff, and I'm glad to help, but he knows I'm going to compete and he's going to compete," Navarre said. "We have our trust in (Green), and we trust his decisions."
When Navarre was selected in the seventh round of the 2004 draft, his place on this team was uncertain. He has impressed the organization with his work ethic, and in Green's system, that means everything. He won't lose his backup job to Leinart without a fight, even though at recent practices it appears the two already are sharing backup reps. With the amount of money the organization is paying Leinart, Navarre's battle won't be easy.
The backup job is an important one. Warner hasn't been a starter for a full season since 2001, although it's misleading to think it has only been about injuries. In 2003, he suffered a concussion early in the Rams season and was replaced by Marc Bulger, even though Warner said he was healthy by the next week. In 2004, he started nine games and led the Giants to a 5-4 record before being replaced by rookie Eli Manning.
"Some of the situations I've been in the last few years, you feel like the best player wasn't always on the football field," Warner said. "That's a frustrating position to be in.
"You understand the business and you understand the politics and you understand the money, but shouldn't the best player be out on the field?"
Reach Boivin at email@example.com
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