A conversation with Matt Leinart

Q)Will coming out of a pro offensive at USC help you on the next level?

Leinart: I think my overall preparation at USC is going to be an advantage. First playing behind Carson Palmer, who's a Pro Bowl quarterback, and learning from him. Playing against an NFL style defense and Coach (Pete) Carroll for five years - Troy Polamalu, Lofa Tatupu, guys that I've played against. Lane Kiffin, Steve Sarkisian who was with the Raiders last year. Monte Kiffin, Lane's dad, is with the Bucs. So there's a lot of ties with the NFL. And obviously Norm Chow now being in the NFL. I think I've been prepared the best you can be prepared. And then playing. Playing in big games. Being on the biggest stage, I think that's going to prepare me.

Q)How would you describe your relationship with Norm Chow?

Leinart: It's great. I missed him this past season, but he had a great opportunity to go to the NFL. Obviously he taught me a lot. Our relationship built from just a coach to a player, to friends, to a mentor. I still talk to him frequently.

Q)The pressure of playing in Los Angeles. Will that help you dealing with the pressure of the NFL?

Leinart: It was tough being in LA, dealing with all the pressure and the limelight, and really being the only team there that's had success the last couple of years. I think that, the publicity that I've gotten, I think that's going to prepare me for the NFL, just because that's the closest thing you're going to get. Obviously it's not the NFL. I've been there, I've seen everything, I've done tons of interviews, I've seen lots of things happen, so I think I'm very prepared in that regard.

Q)Why did you chose to just throw at your Pro Day, and not at the combine?

Leinart: Because [it was] my own workout where I [did] stuff that I've been doing, doing throws and going on the move and doing things that I've been preparing for the last couple months. As for the combine, you have a group of guys and you're going to throw a streak, and it's just different.

Q)What have you told NFL doctors about your eye problem as a kid?

Leinart: I told them exactly what it was: I was born cross-eyed. What are you going to do.

Q)Is it still an issue in any way?

Leinart: It's fixed. Yeah, I had surgery when I was 1 ½, and I had surgery the summer before my freshman year in high school. Ever since... I wore glasses up until that point and then didn't have to anymore.

Q)What would you bring that Jay Cutler might not?

I just think leadership. My main strengths are leadership, game management, what I've done in games the last three years, work ethic, and just to win. I've been a winner my whole career. Lost two games, both games by six points. That's the most important thing is I just win, kind of like a Tom Brady type.

Q)How much better a quarterback are you having stayed for your senior year?

Leinart: Far better. I was able to really approach the game mentally. Physcially, I was going to get stronger. But mentally, the film watching, I've studied a bunch of NFL quarterbacks - Peyton Manning, Tom Brady, Rich Gannon, Brett Favre. I've spent a day with Rich Gannon, he came down to SC. I got to see how he prepares for a game every day during the week.

The mental part, the first day of fall install I learned more practically that day than I did the whole year before, with Steve Sarkisian, who was with the Raiders two years ago and now he's back at SC. Just overall mentally and physically, just grew. A lot of people say I'm 1,000 throws more experienced. Now I'm kind of getting kicked out of college and I'm ready to go.

Q)What are the throws people think you can't make?

Leinart: I know a lot of teams question my arm strength. I've never questioned my arm strength. I think I've proven it in three years of playing with top-notch competition. I'm a lot more mobile than people think. I've never had to run. Actually last year with the naked bootleg we completed something like 85% of them, which was a very high number that kind of goes unlooked.

Q)How much has Carson Palmer helped you?

Leinart: Carson really kind of helped me through this process, just what to expect, how he handled the situation and what he would have done differently. Trying to help me and give me advice. He's been there for me ever since my SC days. He's been the guy I look up to as a player.

Q)What is your speed like?

Leinart: It's excellent. Like 4.4 speed. (Smiles) No, I think I'm deceivingly fast. I can throw on the run a lot better than people think, probably. I've always been a good athlete. I played basketball, baseball, football growing up. I've always been a great athlete. Just because I don't run around, people get this image that I'm just a drop-back passer - which I am - but I can make a guy miss, and I can get out of the pocket and throw on the run.

Q)What do you think of Cutler?

Leinart: Jay's a great player. We actually watched film on him when we were playing Arkansas. Watched tape on him and I was like, `Man, this guy can throw.' Big, strong kid. He had a good Senior Bowl week and really elevated his draft status.

Q)How tough is it for you to leave USC?

Leinart: It's going to be tough. But I can honestly say I had the best time of my life. Lived at college, had a great time, met tons of people, and all the football stuff speaks for itself. Being a part of something that maybe might never be done again - 34 games in a row, almost three national championships, just the tradition at USC is unbelievable. It was a great career, something that I'll move on from, but I'll never forget.


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