Matt Leinart: Glamour boy makes good

"I'm striving to be a great player in this league"

Matt Leinart has been a celebrity quarterback since well before he entered the NFL, and the former Heisman Trophy winner has had a glamorous upbringing on the gridiron. Here, as he prepares to begin his second season as Arizona's franchise QB, Leinart gives his takes on a variety of topics regarding the changes in Arizona and Monday's pivotal season opener between the 49ers and Cardinals.

Q: What do you expect to see from the five new starters on defense for the 49ers?
Leinart:
Well they are a fast defense and had a good off season picking up guys to help out. With the limited film we have had on them, we know they are going to come out aggressive. San Francisco is a team on the rise, and we feel like we are in the same situation.

Q: How much has the offense changed for you?
Leinart:
It has changed since it is a different system than what I am used to. Coach Whisenhunt and (Russ) Grimm brought in the Pittsburgh style offense. We have done a great job in installing it and had a great off season. We scored a lot of points this preseason. Even though we didn't win a game we were ranked among the tops in offense for the preseason. Everyone knows that we have guys that can make plays. We just have to go out there and execute.

Q: Does Edgerrin seem more happy in a more run oriented offense?
Leinart:
Edgerrin is happy no matter what. He played seven years in Indy where it was just three wide receivers and a running back. Now we are implementing a real run style offense where you have a fullback and you are hitting the hole downhill. He is excited and just wants to win. He wants to get his carries, get his yards, get his touchdowns and just wants to win. He is a very unselfish player, so I know he'll just do what it takes to win.

Q: Are you buying into the fact Whisenhunt said he wants to run the ball 55 percent of the time?
Leinart:
You can't buy into percentages and numbers too much. One game we may run the ball 50 times, and another we might throw it 50 times. The game is too unpredictable to say that. Obviously you have a goal in mind. You want to be able to run the ball this number of times or percent, but if we are beating a team and we need to run the ball 10 times in a row to win, that's what we are going to do and if we have to throw it 10 times, that's what we are going to do.

Q: How well do you know your counterpart this week, Alex Smith?
Leinart:
I know him pretty well. He went to high school with Reggie (Bush), so I knew that. We have hung out a couple times outside football. I know his family fairly well. We are both young quarterbacks in the same division and hopefully we will stay in the same division battling it out.

Q: Is there any pressure to distribute the ball evenly among all your weapons?
Leinart:
It makes me happy that we have so many weapons. We have so many unselfish players. It's my job to get the right read and get the ball to the open guy. Our guys like Anquan (Boldin), Larry (Fitzgerald) and Bryant Johnson are going to get their catches and yards just because they are playmakers. My job is just to get the right read and make the right decision. Those guys will be the first to tell you that they just want me to play my game and not do anything out of the ordinary and just lead this football team.

Q: How aware are you of the fact the 49ers paid big money to bring in cornerback Nate Clements this year?
Leinart:
Obviously the contract he signed was huge, so that grabs a lot of attention. He is a great player. I haven't seen him a whole lot, because he was in Buffalo. I have seen him on film and he makes plays, but it doesn't change our approach. We have to run our offense. We have great receivers, but no question he is a good player that makes tackles and doesn't get beat much.

Q: What's your take on (Mike) Nolan saying he got Clements with the Arizona receivers in mind?
Leinart:
I don't know if there is any truth to that if he meant it. But I do believe we have two of the best receivers in the NFL. They are both very young and they continue to make plays everyday. It's no secret as to how good they are. Nate is a great corner and I know our guys are excited about the match up just like I am sure Nate and the other db's are excited.

Q: You've sort of emerged as a football player amid the big-city/Hollywood glamour. Was the celebrity lifestyle you led in college conducive or distracting to developing as a quarterback?
Leinart:
My job is a football. It's my number one priority next to my family. That is it. There is no question about it. I am striving to be a great football player in this league. I want to help this team get to the playoffs and win a Super Bowl with the Arizona Cardinals. Obviously, I am a young quarterback and I have a long ways to go, but those are my goals. I know I have a great situation here in Arizona. We are young and talented and have what it takes. We just have to go out there and play. But there is no distraction.

Q: What's your feelings about having a new right tackle in Levi Brown?
Leinart:
I feel 100 percent in trusting in him. If you look at the right side, you have Deuce Lutui in his second year, Levi in his first year, and me at quarterback in my second year. Levi has done a great job and he is just going to continue to get better. He is going to make his presence felt this year. He's a big physical guy who works hard and he will be a great player.

Q: How big a threat do you see yourself when you are passing on the run?
Leinart:
I love to throw on the run. I love to get out of the pocket. I did that actually quite a bit in college. It kind of went under the mat because we had a lot of weapons and we were so good in college. As a quarterback, I am always going to be a drop back guy. I am never going to be a runner. I would rather throw first, run second, or even third. But if you have the ability to make one, two, or three plays a game outside the pocket, it puts a lot of pressure on the defense. Any defense will tell you that. If you face a quarterback who is a threat to run, but can also throw, it is tough to stop. It's a lot like Alex. Alex is guy who runs around a lot and he makes a lot of plays on the run. Even if you get 4 yards here of 5 yards there, it makes a big difference.

Q: Have you ever met Bill Walsh?
Leinart:
I met Coach Walsh for the Walter Camp awards in Connecticut. They were honoring him. It was right after my junior year in college. I had a chance to meet him. I remember it was me, my father, and him. I just remember him congratulating me and we were talking a little about USC. Obviously I was a young player, but he was a legend. I had known that and just looking up to him, he was one of the greatest coaches to coach the game. It is unfortunate that I didn't know him too well, but he is a legend.

Q: What has your new coach done to replace the culture of losing on a team that hasn't had a winning record since 1998?
Leinart:
First of all, you have to be able to forget the past. Who cares if we were 1-15 or we got to the playoffs and lost in the 1st round, it's last season. Bringing in a new coach kind of refreshes things. The first game in, you just noticed an attitude difference. You noticed that he was a player's coach, but he expects us to perform well and he's a disciplinarian. It is just a totally different attitude we developed this off season. Then bringing in John Lott for the strength just fired us up. Russ Grimm is a head coach anywhere else. All of our coaches have a ton of experience at this level.

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