FLAGSTAFF, Ariz. (AP) -Arizona coach Ken Whisenhunt knew quarterback Matt Leinart had the talent to succeed.
Now he knows he also has the desire.
When Whisenhunt told Leinart to ``pick up his game'' last week, the coach wasn't sure how the young star would handle the criticism. Leinart reacted by going 7-for-7 for 70 yards and a touchdown pass in a 33-20 preseason loss to Houston on Saturday.
``You always wonder how they're going to respond,'' Whisenhunt said before Monday's practice at Northern Arizona University. ``And he showed me that he's going to respond.
``Everybody knows that he's a competitor. But he showed resilience. He showed the ability to want to be good.''
Former Cardinals coach Dennis Green called Leinart ``a gift from heaven'' on draft day a year ago. But Whisenhunt had a slightly different take after watching the former Heisman Trophy winner in person.
Unhappy with Leinart's progress during the first weeks of training camp, Whisenhunt gave his second-year quarterback some ``tough love.''
``'Whiz' definitely was tough on me, and I like that,'' Leinart said. ``It does push me to become better. We've had a lot of talks. He's very positive. He's also told me, 'You could be great in this league. You've got to do these things.'''
Among the areas in which Whisenhunt wanted to see improvement: Leinart's footwork as he dropped back to pass.
Though it may go unnoticed by the casual fan, a quarterback's footwork can be vital to the success of the passing game. If a quarterback is slow to drop back, it could cost him time as he looks downfield for receivers. Likewise, if he doesn't drop back far enough, he may be more susceptible to pressure, and his passes may be knocked down at the line of scrimmage.
Leinart said film from the Houston game revealed that ``my footwork and my drops were a little shaky.'' Leinart may be talented enough to overcome poor technique at times, but he conceded he needs to spend more time working on his drops.
``You don't want to get complacent, and I never got complacent,'' Leinart said. ``But sometimes you just take for granted - your drop, maybe it's bad, but you're still getting away with it. You've got to clean up those things which separate you from the average players or the average quarterbacks in this league.''
Leinart will continue working on his footwork as the Cardinals wind down training camp among the tall pines this week. The team breaks camp on Thursday and will play host to San Diego on Saturday night in the third of four preseason games.
Leinart said he took Whisenhunt's criticism to heart.
``I'm my own worst critic,'' Leinart said. ``I know when I play bad. I'm mad at myself. I'm always hard on myself to get better.''
Leinart improved greatly from a 27-23 loss to Oakland in the preseason opener. In that game, Leinart went 5-of-11 for 50 yards, and he sometimes seemed confused as he tried to pick out his targets.
``I saw a big jump from Oakland to this game,'' Whisenhunt said. ``He still has a ways to go.''
Whisenhunt said Leinart's best moment on Saturday came on a 5-yard touchdown pass to Edgerrin James early in the second quarter. Leinart's first two options - receivers Anquan Boldin and Larry Fitzgerald - were covered on the left side of the field. Instead of tucking the ball and running, Leinart calmly found James.
``That's what he's got to do,'' Whisenhunt said. ``There was no indecisiveness about what he was doing. He knew his read, he knew where he wanted to go.''
Whisenhunt said Leinart has also responded to criticism with increased film study. To Leinart, it's all part of maturing and becoming an elite pro quarterback.
``I'm sure he's going to be on me all the time, especially because I'm a young player,'' Leinart said. ``I've got a lot of room for improvement.''
Leinart's next test comes Saturday night against the Chargers, whose defense ranked 10th in the NFL a year ago. Whisenhunt hasn't said how long he'll go with Leinart and the first-team offense, but they could play into the second half.
This week, at least, Whisenhunt won't have to nag Leinart.
``There's going to be tough stretches for any quarterback,'' Whisenhunt said. ``But if you can respond the way he did, accept the challenge, it just shows me how good he can become.''
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