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Still pining for Leinart?

Set aside for the moment the analysis of all things JaMarcus Russell and consider the draft day decision to bypass Matt Leinart in 2006.

There’s plenty of time to pore over the Russell issue over the next few days now that he’s agreed to terms on a contract.

I’ve been pretty much in the minority regarding Leinart, whom many people I respect are convinced can be a special NFL quarterback.

I’m not so sure, and never have been.

Leinart’s performance in a 20-17 loss to the 49ers Monday night did nothing to change my mind. Admittedly, Leinart has a disadvantage in that he plays for Arizona, a trendy pick to turn things around although I’ll never buy into a Cardinals revival until they’re sitting on 10 wins.

Maybe some day Leinart becomes a left-handed Tom Brady, a guy who has such a good feel for the game it overcomes his lack of eye-popping skill. Leinart doesn’t have an exceptional arm, doesn’t move very well and his footwork needs work.

It’s worth noting that those intangibles are difficult to discern, as evidence by Brady’s status as a sixth-round pick.

During the “Bush Push” game in Leinart’s senior year, I remember thinking the best quarterback on the field that day was Notre Dame’s Brady Quinn, although Quinn probably never had another game that good against top-notch competition in his college career.

Even as Leinart went through a passable but not great rookie year for the Cardinals, I couldn’t figure out the hue and cry regarding Leinart and the Raiders. What, exactly, would Leinart have accomplished last year with Art Shell and Tom Walsh?

The one time Leinart came to McAfee Coliseum, he got decisively outplayed by Andrew Walter _ the one game that makes up Walter’s entire Raiders highlight reel.

My fear regarding Leinart is it was too difficult to tell how good he was in college simply because he had so much talent around him. I wondered if he was a glorified Ken Dorsey, the Miami quarterback who racked up similar win totals on the strength of his supporting cast.

Al Davis apparently didn’t think so, blaming Shell for the Leinart selection. He said it to Shell the day he got fired and repeated it the day Kiffin was hired to a group of reporters following the press conference.

If Shell really did pass on Leinart in favor of Texas safety Michael Huff (more than a little skepticism is warranted here), Davis ought to send him a thank you card.

Huff has yet to do anything special for the Raiders, but that doesn’t mean passing on Leinart with the seventh pick of the 2006 draft wasn’t the right thing to do. Blowing a first pick on a quarterback is more damaging than doing it with a safety.

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Jerry McDonald - NFL Writer