|Leinart out to shed party boy image|
|Written by Admin|
|Thursday, 31 July 2008 11:53|
In Arizona Cardinals training camp for his third NFL season, he seems to have given up worrying about it, preferring to simply hone in on football.
``People can think what they want, but the important thing I've always said is what my family sees and knows and what my team and coaches know,'' he said. ``My team and my coaches know that I work my butt off, that I'm in every day lifting weights, studying, even at home.''
Leinart's off-field notoriety had calmed down a bit before some eyebrow-raising photos showed up last spring on the Internet. One showed him smiling in a hot tub surrounded by four young women. Another had him holding a beer bong while a young woman drank from it.
It was a setback, to say the least.
``We had conversations about it, and I know after the incident it was devastating to him, because he had worked so hard even after he'd gotten hurt during the season and then in the offseason not to put himself in those situations,'' coach Ken Whisenhunt said.
Leinart said he simply has to learn from it.
``It's one of those things where it seems I can't do anything,'' he said. ``If I go out to dinner somebody might say something. It just got to the point where it's not worth it anymore. There are some sacrifices you have to make being a quarterback in the National Football League.''
Leinart traces his image from his heady days at the helm of national champion USC.
``Being the kings of L.A., SC football at the time really was like that, and we had a good time,'' he said.
Shortly after being drafted by the Arizona Cardinals, he threw a big bash in Las Vegas that featured some close moments with Paris Hilton. Then news broke that his former girlfriend, USC basketball player Brynn Cameron, was pregnant with his child.
Leinart was making more news off the field than on it, but the arrival of a big-name young quarterback still elicited excitement in victory-starved Arizona.
Five weeks into his rookie season, Leinart became the Cardinals' starting quarterback and had immediate success. But there were the inevitable downs, too, and when Whisenhunt replaced the fired Dennis Green a year ago, Leinart faced a complete change in offense.
He acknowledges he was lost.
``Last year I had no clue what was going on, this year I feel like I do,'' Leinart said. ``I have a command of the offense.''
Whisenhunt got on Leinart about not working hard enough at times, too.
``That's natural with a lot of young players, not just the quarterback or not just Matt,'' Whisenhunt said. ``As you are in the league a little bit longer, if you're going to be successful, those guys mature, and you're seeing that with Matt.''
Then in the fifth game last year, he took a crushing hit against San Francisco and went down for the season with a broken collarbone. The rest of the season was spent on the sidelines watching Kurt Warner take over his job.
Warner threw for 3,417 yards and 27 touchdowns, but Whisenhunt named Leinart this year's starter.
By all accounts, the young quarterback's early days of this training camp have been impressive.
``He's a lot more comfortable, a lot more familiar with the offense,'' quarterbacks coach Jeff Rutledge said. ``When he gets in the huddle you can sense that confidence, you can sense that leadership.''
Warner believes he should be the starter, but that doesn't stop him from praising Leinart's growth.
``I see a better understanding of what we're trying to do,'' Warner said. ``This is the best I've seen him play since I've been around in three years.''
Rutledge, a player in the NFL for 14 years, calls Leinart ``a great young man.''
``I love being around him,'' Rutledge said. ``What other people I think perceive is so much different from what I perceive, which the other coaches perceive, what his teammates perceive - because we know him.''
Once reluctant to talk about his son, Cole, Leinart now is openly proud.
``He's running all over, talking and everything,'' he said. ``I miss him.''
A good season would go a long way toward erasing any negative feelings Cardinals' fans might have about Leinart's extracurricular activities. Leinart says he is prepared to take the good with the bad.
``I've always known being a professional athlete is tough, let alone being a quarterback in the National Football League,'' he said. ``There's a lot on you, a lot of pressure on you to succeed. You take the glory and you take the falls, but that's what I signed up to do.
``This is what I feel like I was born to do is play football, and I love it.''