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Fire Me Boy!
10-05-2006, 07:40 AM

Bring on that rookie

The Chiefs, who have had success against young QBs, expect Leinart to have ‘breakdowns.’

The Kansas City Star

Publicly, the Chiefs are saying the politically correct things about being the opponent Sunday when rookie quarterback Matt Leinart makes his first start for the Arizona Cardinals.

Privately, they can’t believe their good fortune.

Leinart, a former Heisman Trophy winner at Southern California, is advanced for a rookie quarterback. He certainly won’t be awed after playing one big game after another in college.

But he’s still a rookie, and the Chiefs will get the chance to welcome him to the NFL.

“We expect him to have mental breakdowns,” linebacker Derrick Johnson said. “That’s what rookie quarterbacks do.

“We’ll mix it up a little bit. We’ve got some things to put on him, whatever we have to do to get him on the ground.”

Chiefs defensive coordinator Gunther Cunningham always has a few unfamiliar tricks ready for rookie quarterbacks. He concocted some things for Chargers rookie Ryan Leaf for a 1998 game at Arrowhead Stadium.

The Chiefs gave Leaf such a beating that it might have set the tone for his dismal career.

It’s hard to predict the same about Sunday’s game and Leinart. He was a first-round draft pick this year as much for his football intelligence as his physical ability.

“I definitely feel like that,” Leinart said. “But it’s still a lot, no matter what I know. It’s still the NFL. I’m not familiar with defenses and different looks. I’m still adjusting to a new game.

“I’m expecting them to come after me, blitz me a lot, try to rattle me because I’m a young guy. But I know what I need to do. I understand what’s going on on our offense.”

Arizona coach Dennis Green became frustrated with veteran starter Kurt Warner, who lost three fumbles and threw five interceptions in the first four games. Green suggested that the change at quarterback had more to do with Warner’s failures than Leinart’s promise.

“If we were not 1-3, (Leinart) wouldn’t be playing,” Green said.

“The Chiefs were very aggressive last week against (San Francisco’s Alex) Smith. They treated him like it was his first year. He had a very difficult time. It’s his second year, but he’s still a young quarterback. I would anticipate they would take the same approach against us.”

While Warner was killing Arizona’s chance for victory with his turnovers, he also gave them big-play ability they may be lacking with Leinart.

“They’ll have a good game plan for him, I’m sure,” linebacker Kawika Mitchell said. “They’ll have ways for him to get rid of the ball, get him started off, get him comfortable in the pocket. Hopefully, we’ll get after him. It’s a challenge for our defensive line to handle their offensive line.

“He’s a smart player. That’s one of his best attributes. He knows what he’s doing back there.”

The Chiefs, for the most part, have shut down some of the NFL’s best receivers this season, including Chad Johnson and Chris Henry of Cincinnati, Javon Walker and Rod Smith of Denver and Antonio Bryant of San Francisco.

None has gone off for anything close to 100 yards. None caught a touchdown pass.

The Cardinals, with Larry Fitzgerald and Anquan Boldin, may have the best pair of wide receivers the Chiefs have faced. That’s why, rookie quarterback or not, the Chiefs have to be careful.

“They have some gifted wide receivers that can make plays, and that’s always scary,” Chiefs coach Herm Edwards said. “They are just one play away from making the big play. When you can throw the ball and you’ve got some receivers who can jump up when they are covered and catch it, that’s what they do.

“This offense is kind of similar to the one that (Green) had in Minnesota. He had Randy Moss and all of those guys up there, and you just shake your head because you know they are going to test you (down the field).”

Those Vikings had strong-armed Daunte Culpepper at quarterback. Leinart’s strengths are much different.

“His strengths are his ability to get rid of the ball, he has a quick release, he is a very smart quarterback,” Edwards said. “He reminds me a little bit of (Jets quarterback) Chad Pennington in the fact that he understands where his receivers are. I think he’s pretty good at reading his coverages. Now, the speed of the game is a little bit different here than it is in college.”