With Schaub injured in Houston, a USC native son steps into a starring NFL role
Former USC Trojans quarterback and 2004 Heisman Trophy winner Matt Leinart will be stepping into the starting role for the Houston Texans for their next game against the Jacksonville Jaguars on November 27. It will be his first start as a Texan after he signed with the team on September 6, 2010.
Leinart's success in college is well-documented. He guided the Trojans to the national championship in 2004, the same year he won the Heisman, and was also given the inaugural Manning Award to recgonize the nation's best college quarterback. In 2005 he again led the Trojans to the BCS title game, but lost to Texas. The 2004 title was later vacated by the BCS, but nonetheless Leinart is remembered as one of the most prolific and successful USC quarterbacks. He graduated as the all-time leader in completion percentage and touchdown passes, and only lost two games in his entire career at USC. He was highly rated by NFL draft experts, although some experts claimed he lacked a strong throwing arm. In the 2006 NFL Draft, he was selected tenth overall by the Arizona Cardinals.
Since that time, he has not had a real opportunity to become the kind of star at the professional level that he was at the college level. After a contract hold-out in Arizona his rookie season, he was named the back-up to Kurt Warner. After Warner struggled, he was given an opportunity to start and compiled 405 passing yards in a November 26, 2006 game against the Minnesota Vikings, a rookie record at the time. However, he enjoyed only moderate success as he finished that season with a 4-7 record as a starter.
In 2007, he was named the starter for the season opener but struggled and was supplanted by Kurt Warner once again. In October, he injured his collarbone and was placed on injured reserve.
In 2008, after recovering from his injury, he was the presumptive starter but after throwing three interceptions within only a few minutes in the third preseason game against the Oakland Raiders, the starting job went again to Kurt Warner. From that point, it was assumed Leinart would back up Warner until his retirement, which came in 2010. Although Leinart was presumed to again be the starter, he lost his job in training camp to Derek Anderson and was released, leading him to the Texans last year.
In Houston, Leinart has been backing up starting quarterback Matt Schaub since his arrival. Now Schaub is out with a Lisfranc injury suffered during a QB sneak against Tampa last Sunday, and Leinart is expected to again step into the starting role.
Regarding Schaub's injury, Texans head coach Gary Kubiak resisted saying how long the star QB would be out.
"There's a lot of things reported," Kubiak said. "He's going to be in a boot throughout this week, and then the evaluation process will continue."
Lisfranc injuries typically take awhile to heal, meaning Leinart will probably have a chance to start more than just the game in Jacksonville. Leinart is excited to step into the starting role and continue the Texans success so far this season.
"That's what I've wanted for a long time, and that's what I've worked hard for every day and prepared for every day," he said. "It's a great opportunity. I'm just excited about the chance."
The Texans are 7-3 this season and are first in the AFC South. If the season ended today, they would be in the playoffs as the #1 seed in the AFC. It would be Houston's first playoff appearance since their formation as an expansion team in 2002.
Leinart has extra time to prepare for this start -- the Texans have a bye week before playing the Jaguars. Coach Kubiak believes his team will be in good hands with Leinart at the helm.
"He's played in big football games in this league, he's played in big football games in college," Kubiak said. "Matt's been around it. The key is the whole team rallying around him, and playing well as a team."
Although Jacksonville is having a bad season overall (3-6, third AFC South), they have a strong defense that is only allowing 18 points per game and is ranked fourth in yards per game. Leinart will have his hands full, especially with star linebacker Paul Posluszny staring him down. But he is helped by the fact that the Texans' defense is currently first overall in yards allowed, and he plays on an offensive unit with Andre Johnson and Arian Foster.
After the Jaguars, the Texans face the Falcons (5-4), Bengals (6-3), Panthers (2-7), Colts (0-10), and Titans (5-4). Only time will tell whether Leinart will play in those games, but if he plays well Nov 27, it is highly likely that he will.