QB Matt Leinart. **Photo by Tony Gonzales
Q: How has your arm healed from last year? Would you say that you're 100 percent?
Leinart: Yeah, I feel great. I had a great workout, rehab program with John Meyer down in Southern California. I feel great. Like you said, this whole offseason was about getting better and just focusing on that and hoping and letting things fall out where they were. I'm grateful, very grateful, for the opportunity here in Oakland.
Q: Did you talk to any other teams before signing with the Raiders and what attracted you to the Raiders?
Leinart: Houston was a possibility to go back there. I just think with my knowledge of the offense and being with Coach Knapp for the last two years as my quarterback coach and him being my offensive coordinator here, it made just perfect sense for me to come here and help out these guys with this offense because this is a brand new offense for almost everyone on the offensive side of the ball except for myself and Mike Brisiel, who came from Houston as well. So it was a no brainer. It was a great opportunity for me to come in here and help in any way that I can.
Q: How would you describe this new offense to Raiders fans?
Leinart: It's a highly-efficient offense, built with a lot of big-play possibilities. The zone-schemes are very difficult on a defense and if you watch Houston's offense over the last three or four years, just the explosiveness they have, but operating at a high-efficiency rating. That's what it's all about. So I think the big thing for us here is just to learn as quick as possible because there's a lot of details to it, but Coach Knapp does a great job with that and the coaching staff here. And that's just from being here the short time that I've been here. It's a work in progress anytime you're teaching a new offense, but with the speed that we have here and the guys and the personnel, it's a great opportunity for us on this side of the ball to score a lot of points and to keep defenses on their toes.
Q: Has Carson [Palmer] been picking your brain a lot, obviously you guys have a good relationship, about what to expect?
Leinart: Yes, and you know the thing is, I've repped a lot of these plays over the course of the last two seasons whereas he's running some of these plays for the first time or second time. I watched Matt Schaub who operates this offense as good as anybody, I picked his brain for two years, so in essence, I'm here for Carson, to help him with reads, to let him know that certain things are very good just to stay on it. When you're taught a new offense, there's things that you're not used to. You're used to doing it a certain way, but sometimes the reads are a little different. I told him today, 'just stick with this route because it's a great route for us; it'll be a great route for us.' So just things like that. Carson has been around a long time. He's a smart quarterback. He's had a lot of success, so he's going to be fine. But that's definitely the cool thing is we're so comfortable with each other. We've been teammates, we've been friends, for the last 10 years. That's the relationship we have and I'm here to help him as much as possible.
Q: You've said you're there to help and teach the offense, but still that competitor in you probably still wants to be a starting quarterback. Is there any irony there or uncomfortable feeling there that you still feel you're a starting quarterback?
Leinart: There's no doubt. I think in this league, if you don't have the competitive desire to play no matter what position, then you're in the wrong league. For me, it was a bummer last year getting hurt when I finally had my opportunity and I was playing well and it was the most comfortable I had been in years. Injuries happen, it's part of the game. It sucks, but you move on. So for this year, I knew I wasn't going to go into a place to be named the starter. I understand that, but my mentality is that I'm still confident that I can start, I'm still confident that I can play and the good thing is I know this offense well so I feel comfortable that when I get my chance or get the reps, that I can execute it. With Carson, there's no weird feeling, there's no awkward feeling. He's the starter here. He's proved that his whole career that he can play at a high level. But for me, I'm going to be pushing…you know what it is? I'm going to be pushing myself every day to get better. I'm going to help Carson. I'm going to help Terrelle [Pryor] as much as possible, but I'm also going to be competing my butt off to play. That's all you can do in this league. That's all the coaches ask of you is just to compete and try to get better every day and that's what I'm going to do.
Q: You won a Heisman, just as Carson, and people would expect you to be a starter in the NFL. You've had problems, you've had injuries, is it tough to keep going or do you have to prove anything to anybody or to yourself?
Leinart: I think for me, it's been a difficult road, a lot of ups and downs. Everyone's path to success or whatever you want to call it is different. For a perfect example from someone I learned under, Kurt Warner, who didn't start a football game until he was 29, which I just turned 29 last week, he didn't start a football game until he was 29 in the NFL, and he played nine, 10 years, and probably is a Hall of Famer. Everyone's course is different. For me, I had success as a rookie, then I broke my collarbone by second year, and then Kurt became a Hall of Fame quarterback and I sat behind him. And then for myself in Arizona, we parted ways, which was best for both parties, and then Houston gave me an opportunity and then you get injured again. It's whatever, bad luck, whatever you want to call it, bad breaks, but for me, I just keep fighting because I believe in myself, I believe in what I can do. I just keep fighting. I don't have that attitude, I don't have that mindset, to where I'm okay with just being number two or I'm okay just getting by. I work my butt off, I compete my butt off. And any of my teammates or old teammates will tell you that, that I just keep my head down and keep grinding. That's what you have to do in this league because this league can eat you up very fast. It's a hard league, but I love it. I love the competition. I love just being with the guys. So for me, I try to positive. There's definitely been times where I've been depressed, you get down, just, 'man, why is this happening, why am I not on the field.' I just keep working. That's all you can do.
Q: Do you think you've always had this mindset or did maturity bring this mindset to you that everybody's path is different?
Leinart: Definitely maturity has played a part. That's just natural. I came in as a highly-touted draft pick. I was 22 years old. I had a very successful career in college, had a pretty good rookie year too, and a switch of a coaching staff, and we didn't mesh. Like I said, there's no excuses, I grew up as well, but just things happen in the course of a career where you're maybe not in a great situation and whatever happens, happens. It was a learning experience and I learned a lot and I grew up fast. And then you just kind of catch yourself, well this hasn't gone according to plan, but I'm going to take advantage of my situation. I'm with Kurt Warner who's a Hall of Fame guy. I'm learning and when my opportunity comes let's make the most of it. Unfortunately, over there, it was just better that I was not there and that's just the way it is. I've moved on from that, two or three years removed, and honestly, Houston was the best thing that happened of my career because it regained my confidence. Coach Kubiak, Coach Knapp was great in just getting my confidence back. And then this is where I'm at today. I've matured to the point where my mindset is I'm competing, I know I can do the job, you just have to keep grinding it and hope to get that opportunity.
Q: What are your first impressions of Terrelle Pryor?
Leinart: I think he's obviously very physically gifted kid. He's very young, but he's talented, there's no doubt. You can't hide that. For him, this offense, he's just going to have to learn. It's with reps and repetitions, but he's a good young kid. He works hard. I'm definitely impressed. And the great thing about him, from what I've seen, is he works hard. He tries to work at his game, which is all you can ask for in a quarterback.
Q: Looking back at your draft, were you a little surprised that the Raiders didn't pick you?
Leinart: I went on a pre-draft visit here, met with the late Al Davis, I remember us kind of talking that if I was there at 7, which is where they picked that year, that he didn't see how they could pass up on myself. But he didn't think I'd be there at 7. So I remember this conversation like it was yesterday, it's kind of crazy. But they went with Mike Huff, who's still here. But at the time, when it was getting closer, that day I knew they weren't going to draft me. The draft is crazy, you never know what's going to happen.
Q:Could you address why this offense (West Coast) fits you and fits him [Carson]?
Leinart: First of all, at USC, we did a ton of bootleg stuff. That was Norm Chow's version, Lane Kiffin was there, [Steve] Sarkisian, so we had great coaching there, great offensive minds. Carson, because he was graduating, he had the offense for the first year they came in and then the second year, the year he won the Heisman. But I was there for five years so there was a lot of bootleg stuff, getting the ball out quick, letting your guys do what they do best – run after the catch, whatever. So I think, for me, I love that stuff. That's when I went to Houston, it was a lot of the same things we ran at USC concept-wise. I mean, I'm not a runner, but I do like getting out of the pocket, I do like throwing on the run and those kind of things because that's what we did in college. And Carson is the same way. In that way, and I know obviously we're not built the same way, but as far as us both liking throwing on the run, we both like the movement stuff, it's very similar. And here, the offense, yeah, it's a lot of timing stuff, get the ball out fast, completions, completions, completions, is stressed. Always move the chain. I always reference Houston because that's where I was and that's where a lot of this stuff is coming from, you just look at how efficient that offense works. With [Darren] McFadden and the running game here and the offensive line, it's got a great chance to have a lot of success.