Is Byron Leftwich a viable alternative to Josh McCown as the Bucs starting quarterback?
If you believe the first of the NFL preview magazines hitting the newsstands, Leftwich has a shot. Remember, though, how many newsstands were holding magazines that predicted the Tampa Bay Rays to go to the World Series last year?
Leftwich has a few things going for him. First, he has experience as a starter, taking over for Mark Brunell early in his rookie season in Jacksonville. He was the seventh overall pick in the 2003 draft and was supposed to back up Brunell for a season before moving into the starters role for the Jaguars.
But by the fourth game of that season, Brunell went down with a minor knee injury and Leftwich took over. By the end of the year, Leftwich was The Man in Jacksonville and Brunell began an odyssey that has him as the backup in New Orleans now.
Leftwich has the tools, or at least most of them. He has a gun for an arm, he’s smart and can read defenses. He also has the kind of courage that would embarrass Brett Favre. Remember his senior year at Marshall, rallying his team back from 17 down with a broken shin and being carried on and off the field by his offensive linemen?
Problem is, Leftwich has had to dig into the tank way too often. Not only are both of his knees shot, he’s also playing on a broken ankle that ended his 2005 season. Leftwich, at 6'4" and listed at 250, is a refrigerator behind the line of scrimmage. He can’t move much and that was why Jacksonville replaced him with David Garrard in 2007 after naming Leftwich the starting quarterback.
Since then Leftwich spent a year in Atlanta and won a Super Bowl ring with the Steelers last year, but he’s spent most of the past two years on the bench.
So does he have a shot to beat out McCown for the starting job? He’ll go into training camp as the backup, but he also has more experience as a starter than McCown who has only one win as a starter during his NFL career. Bucs coach Raheem Morris hasn’t come out and guaranteed that McCown is the starter, but during OTA’s, it’s been McCown getting the reps with the first team.
Leftwich’s lack of mobility might not kill his chances in Tampa Bay. The Bucs have a solid line that can protect Leftwich better than the one he started with in Jacksonville, and he has a better arm than McCown. McCown knows the system from his past two years in Tampa Bay but the fact that the Bucs signed Leftwich to a two-year deal instead of a one-year deal says that the Bucs are willing to commit to Leftwich until rookie Josh Freeman is ready.
If nothing else, Leftwich has always been the consummate team player and will make a great role model for Freeman as the rookie waits his turn. Never once did he complain about backing up Joey Harrington in Atlanta, and he signed with the Steelers last season knowing that Ben Roethlisberger was driving the bus.
For now it’s McCown’s job to lose and Freeman’s job in two years, but Leftwich is the bridge between the two and a viable alternative if McCown stumbles out of the gate.
LAST SECOND SHOT: The Bucs may be looking to go young, but has anyone noticed that Plaxico Burress is out there on the free agent market? Burress isn’t the most savory choice, but he’s got speed and can go deep. The Bucs have neither of those factors right now. Should the Bucs brass hold their nose and take a flyer on Burress? Just asking.
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