QB Byron Leftwich has a record of 24-22 in 46 career NFL starts
Byron Leftwich has started 46 games during his seven-year NFL career. The other three players currently throwing passes for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers have combined for seven career NFL starts.
That does not include Brian Griese, who has not been involved in the Buccaneers' '09 offseason, but it does include veteran Luke McCown, second-year man Josh Johnson and rookie first-rounder Josh Freeman. All seven starts, obviously, belong to McCown, but five of those came during McCown's rookie season in Cleveland in 2004.
None of that, statistically at least, will determine which of those four adds one start to his total on opening day this September. When Leftwich signed with the Buccaneers in April, not long before the draft that brought Freeman to town, he was not anointed the starter nor presumed to be the frontrunner due to his experience. Still, that experience is an asset to Leftwich, potentially a factor in this four-way competition.
"You've got to say it's an edge, because there is experience, but it's all going to be determined in the preseason," said Buccaneers Head Coach Raheem Morris, on which the final decision rests. "These guys have got to go out and do it here. We want to see what have you done for me lately, to be honest with you, so we've got to get them out there on the field, let those guys go out and compete in the preseason and be ready to go."
Leftwich has a 24-22 record as a starter, most of it with the Jacksonville Jaguars from 2003-06. He was once where Freeman is, the first-round pick presumed to be his franchise's long-term answer under center, and indeed he fit the part for a good amount of time. Including his two seasons with Atlanta (2007) and Pittsburgh (2008), Leftwich has thrown 54 touchdowns against 38 interceptions, passed for nearly 10,000 yards and compiled a passer rating of 80.3.
Leftwich didn't start any games for the Super Bowl-winning Steelers last year, but he did relieve starter Ben Roethlisberger on several occasions and helped keep Pittsburgh's season on track. Leftwich had a 104.3 rating in five games for the Steelers, and he just recently collected his Super Bowl ring.
The newly-minted champion knows he can bring his experience to bear in the current competition but doesn't think there's much it can do for him at this time of the year.
"It's hard to reinforce it when you're in shorts," said Leftwich, referring to the league-mandated non-contact work that makes up the NFL offseason. "Everybody can play football in shorts and a helmet, let's be honest. It's all about who the guys follow and who performs the best in the preseason. That's what it's going to come down to. Nobody can win the job in OTAs.
"I can only open people's eyes up that never coached me before. That's all I can do."
So how can Leftwich manage to translate his past performance into the type of output that will force Buccaneer coaches to look his way on opening day? In his mind, it's rather simple.
"Play football," he said. "I'm a football player. When I came here, they told me the best quarterback would be the starting quarterback of this football team, and that's all I worry about every day, just going out here and trying to be the best quarterback on this football team. Everything else is really irrelevant. When you sit back and look at it, I'm doing the best I can to go out and lead this football team."
When Leftwich arrived in Tampa, he joined McCown as the likely top combatants for the job; Johnson intrigues the team but obviously has a steeper climb to the job. That was before the team drafted Freeman, an act that didn't change Leftwich's feelings about signing in Tampa, no matter what it means for the franchise's future.
"Like I said, whoever is the best quarterback, he will play," said Leftwich. "That's the only way you can look at it. Anybody here that plays quarterback, we all understand that they drafted Josh in the first round and eventually they're going to give him the keys. It's my job to make sure I'm the best quarterback on the team and they don't give him the keys until later on. That's how you've got to look at it. I'm going on my seventh year and I understand how it works."
By most accounts, Leftwich has impressed on the practice field since his arrival. In one way, he's stepped into a situation in which he can get up to speed, relatively speaking, fairly quickly. All of the Buccaneer quarterbacks are learning on the job, given that the team is installing a new offense under first-year coordinator Jeff Jagodzinski.
That experience that separates Leftwich from his fellow competitors? That certainly hasn't hurt in the process of picking up the offense.
"You've seen why he was a starter in this league," said Morris. "What he's done is come in here, he's got a good grasp of the offense. He knows how to control the huddle. He has some of the intangibles that some of our other guys don't have without that experience. So that's what he does bring to the table. He has that swagger, to bring some of that stuff from playing that all of our guys don't have. That's what we thought, and that's what we got. We got a veteran, a young veteran, so we're happy about it."