Quarterback Byron Leftwich was the big winner in Marshall’s 2001 GMAC Bowl triumph over David Garrard and East Carolina, but it was Garrard who got the last laugh.
Garrard chased Leftwich from his starting duties with the Jacksonville Jaguars in 2007—his last job as a starting quarterback in the National Football League.
Garrard has been the starter in Jacksonville ever since, while Leftwich has bounced from Atlanta to Pittsburgh and, most recently, to Tampa Bay. But with the Bucs and new head coach Raheem Morris, the veteran Leftwich has a good shot at a starting job once again.
According to Leftwich, who won a Super Bowl last season as a backup to the Steelers’ Ben Roethlisberger, the chance to start at quarterback was a big reason he chose to sign with the Buccaneers.
To win over the Bucs and prove he’s capable, however, he’ll have to beat out Luke McCown—who’s already claimed the job—and Josh Freeman—a confident rookie and first-round draft pick out of Kansas State.
The bad news? Tampa Bay fans are tired of quarterback battles and oft-injured veterans following Jon Gruden’s reign as head coach, and their patience is running thin after four consecutive losses ended their 2008 season in utter disappointment.
Leftwich will also have to learn the nooks and crannies of yet another playbook—his third in as many seasons—with which McCown already has a head start.
The good news? Whoever wins the job will likely benefit from what looks to be a strong backfield rotation with the addition of former Giant Derrick Ward. The Tampa Bay signal caller will also have enticing targets in wide receiver Antonio Bryant and tight end Kellen Winslow to stretch the field.
The following are a few mock interview questions I would like to ask Leftwich:
- What were the selling points in your decision to sign with Tampa Bay?
- It seems like your career has been somewhat of a roller-coaster ride from being released in Jacksonville and Atlanta to winning a Super Bowl in Pittsburgh and to now having a chance to compete for the starting job here in Tampa. What have you learned throughout this journey and what’s the hardest part about picking up and moving to a new team?
- What were your initial impressions of Coach Morris?
- Coach Morris says he’s taken a lot from Pittsburgh head coach and former Buc Mike Tomlin. What was it like playing for Tomlin in Pittsburgh and do you see any similarities in their coaching styles?
- You won a Super Bowl last season with Tomlin, but does a Super Bowl win mean as much when you find yourself second on the depth chart?
- Based on the time you’ve spent with Coach Morris and Coach Jagodzinski, what qualities do you think they’re looking for in a starting quarterback?
- What’s your take on Jagodzinski’s system and how do you think it will help the Bucs this season?
- What goals do you have for yourself and this team for the 2009 season?
- Being a veteran with significantly more experience than the Bucs’ other options, what kind of edge does that give you as you compete for the starting job?
- What are your impressions of Josh Freeman and what weight, if any, do you give to the comparisons between him and former teammate Ben Roethlisberger?
- You played behind NFL veteran Mark Brunell at the start of your career in Jacksonville, what advice would you give Josh and do you see yourself taking an active role in mentoring the rookie quarterback?
- The team may not have a clear starter at quarterback for the time being, but what are your thoughts on the backfield here in Tampa and the impact that rotation could have for this offense?
- What have you learned about the receiving core since you’ve arrived in Tampa?
- How important do you think it is to reach out and be a part of the Tampa Bay community and do you have any plans in mind to do so?
- What do you see for yourself in your life after football?
Though early indicators seem to point to McCown, the experience Leftwich brings to Tampa Bay and the fact that he proved he can still play in Pittsburgh make him a compelling option to start week one for the Buccaneers this season.
In five appearances with the Steelers in 2008, Leftwich completed 21-of-36 pass attempts for 303 yards and two touchdowns, without throwing an interception.
While I don’t think these numbers will matter much to Morris, McCown can’t hide the fact that he’s 1-for-7 in his career as a starter. Leftwich, meanwhile, has not only won, but has led a team to the playoffs.
As far as Freeman is concerned, Morris would probably like to keep his prized rookie out of the line of fire unless 2009 is officially dubbed a rebuilding year mid-season.
Morris, however, has made it clear the job is anyone's to win—not someone's to lose—and the Bucs' questions at quarterback will likely linger well into the season.