JOHN WAWROW, AP Sports Writer
ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. (AP) — Preposterous as it might have once sounded, quarterback Matt Leinart finds himself suddenly having much in common with Jeff Tuel.
Upon arriving in Buffalo last weekend for what could be a last chance at resurrecting his career, the 2004 Heisman Trophy winner offered Tuel — an undrafted rookie out of Washington State — advice on how to prepare for the possibility of being the Bills’ opening-day starter.
“With football, it’s crazy,” Leinart said. “I told him, ‘Hey, in this league, anything can happen. You always have to stay ready.'”
Leinart spoke from experience. It wasn’t lost on the former Southern California star that he could have been referring to his own seven-year career that’s gone from the promise of first-round-draft-pick potential, to spending nearly the entire offseason wondering if he still has an NFL future.
“Oh yeah, I’ve seen the worst in this league. And I’ve seen some pretty good highs,” Leinart said. “So I’ve been through a lot.”
If not for injuries sidelining the Bills’ two top quarterbacks, rookie EJ Manuel (left knee) and veteran Kevin Kolb (concussion), Leinart might still have been waiting by the phone.
Instead, after signing with Buffalo on Sunday, Leinart will have what’s essentially a one-time tryout to compete for a backup spot as the Bills (2-1) close the preseason against Detroit (2-1) Thursday. Tuel is expected to get limited playing time because the Bills are wary of having yet another quarterback hurt before opening against New England on Sept. 8.
That means Leinart and Thaddeus Lewis, who was acquired Sunday in a trade with Detroit, will get the majority of snaps after only two days of practice and a walkthrough.
“I’m just excited to be here, obviously, and humbled and just thankful for the opportunity,” said Leinart, who is on his third team in as many seasons. “For me, at this point, I don’t feel like there’s anything to lose. That’s exciting because I’ve had a lot of pressure over the years.”
The pressure of expectations along with injuries, coaching changes, loss of confidence and bad timing have combined to derail Leinart’s career. He was drafted 10th overall in 2006 by Arizona after a 37-2 record at USC.
Leinart started 16 games his first two seasons in Arizona before being sidelined by a broken left collarbone in 2007. He spent his final two seasons with the Cardinals backing up Kurt Warner.
Seeking a fresh start, he signed with Houston in 2010, where misfortune struck Leinart the following year. Taking over a playoff-bound Texans team that was off to a 7-3 start, Leinart broke his collarbone in the first half of his first game in place of injured starter Matt Schaub.
“Talk about lows. That was one of the toughest times of my career,” he said. “It was like, ‘Why? Like this is the opportunity I’ve been waiting for two, three years.’ And it was just taken away from me like that.”
Leinart spent last season in Oakland, where he appeared in two games splitting backup duties with Terrelle Pryor.
In Buffalo, Leinart has no guarantees after Thursday. Tuel is penciled in to start the opener, though the Bills haven’t ruled out Manuel being ready to play. Kolb is out indefinitely, which opens a spot Leinart could fill once the team makes its final cuts by Saturday.
Coach Doug Marrone said it’s too early to make any determinations regarding Leinart or Lewis.
“I really don’t know until I see them and evaluate them,” Marrone said, noting he’ll judge Leinart on how he performs in Buffalo without preconceptions. “You go in there and say: ‘Whatever has happened in the past is in the past. Here’s an opportunity — take advantage of it.'”
Marrone was with New Orleans in 2006, when the Saints evaluated Leinart as a potential draft pick. And Leinart is familiar with Bills offensive coordinator Nathaniel Hackett. The two share common friends, and Hackett’s father, former Trojans coach Paul Hackett, recruited Leinart to play at USC.
“Obviously, I know nothing is guaranteed ever,” Leinart said. “I know there’s been times where I haven’t performed well. But I’m still capable, and I still know I can do it.”
The Lions are approaching the game seeking to settle starting jobs on the right side of their offensive line. Coach Jim Schwartz has yet to say whether tackle Jason Fox and rookie guard Larry Warford have solidified the two spots.
Linebacker Chris White will make his Lions’ debut after the Bills traded the reserve to Detroit to acquire Lewis.
“That’s going to be pretty crazy,” said White, Buffalo’s 2011 sixth-round draft pick. “It’s definitely going to be strange playing against all my teammates. But I’m going to go out there and give it my all.”
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