After weighing all the evidence, including, practice observations, game film and opinions inside One Buccaneer Place, Bucs head coach Raheem Morris and his coaching staff have reached a verdict regarding their starting quarterback position.
Morris informed his team Saturday morning that Byron Leftwich would serve as Tampa Bay's starting quarterback heading into the 2009 regular season. Morris gave a long explanation as to why he chose Leftwich.
“Tell you why? Just throughout the process, I guess I can tell you now, Leftwich had the early lead coming into camp," said Morris. "Throughout (organized team activities) days, he kind of came in here and was impactful. He executed the offense. He went to training camp and Luke tightened it up a little bit. He came out of that little funk he was in during OTA days and that mini-camp. He kind of woke some eyes up, decided that he can fight for the job and be the guy. He came into training camp, Leftwich started off what he kind of finished. Luke came in hungry, he was out to prove that he was ready to go. Leftwich still had the early lead. Going into game one, Leftwich played a little bit better, I started Luke. Luke didn’t have a great outing, but it wasn’t terrible. He had some busts by receivers, some of those things. He came back to that second game; Leftwich started the game and played okay.
"Luke came in and lit it up, really got you going if we could have this guy every day. [So we said], ‘let’s see if we can do it, let’s extend it.’ We extended it to that third week and were looking at it, details and everything. You go back, start looking at mini-camp again, OTA days again and you get ready for that game. You decide how you want to practice, how you want to prepare and how you want to go into it. It went to that third game there was really no distinguished guy. Leftwich missed a couple of throws, when you look back at it, two throws that could have been big hits. He had some communication issues with the receiver on a couple other ones that we thought were bad throws, should have been this route and not that route and so on. That happened as well. We got together as a staff, obviously went in there and told ownership like I told you I would. I called those guys in this morning and told them. I told my team this morning and here I am telling you guys third, or it’s supposed to be third.”
The Bucs initially planned to name their starting quarterback after their second preseason contest, but Morris extended his own deadline through the third exhibition contest because the competition between Leftwich and challenger Luke McCown was too close to call. Morris said that McCown will backup Leftiwch with Josh Freeman as the third emergency quarterback. Morris also hinted that Josh Johnson could be on the team as a fourth quarterback.
“Well obviously we’ll go Leftwich," said Morris. "If something happens to Leftwich we’ll have McCown. We’ll have Josh [Freeman] over there holding the clipboard and an earpiece. We’ll see what happens after that. We’ll have Josh Johnson.
"I’m going to keep the best players on this team, I said that from the beginning, the best 53. Josh Johnson showed a lot of savvy, a lot of tools that you want, you know, if you want guys that can get you through a football game, smart, savvy, poise, athleticism, decision-making, the rush to go do it, that’s what we can see out here in these games. Is he one of the best 53 on my team? Probably.”
Leftwich, 29, completed 21-of-43 (48.8 percent) of his passes for 224 yards and tossed one touchdown and no interceptions while being sacked twice. His quarterback rating through three preseason contests (two starts) is 72.2.
The 6-foot-6, 250-pound Leftwich, who signed a two-year contract this offseason, has completed 58.6 percent of his passes for 9,624 yards and tossed 54 touchdowns and 38 interceptions in 46 career starts with Jacksonville, Atlanta and Pittsburgh, and the former first-round pick's playing experience is one of the things Morris likes about Leftwich. Leftwich's playing experience is significantly more than that of McCown's.
“I’m very excited," said Leftwich. "Very excited you know, when I get home I’ll probably scream and let all my emotions out. I’ve been holding them in. You know to work my tail off to get to this point again. To be a starter in Week 1 is what I wanted, and I’ll take full advantage of it. I think I’ll do a lot of good things for the Bucs this year.”
Morris said that it was unanimous decision. The Bucs organization was split on the decision after the second preseason game against Jacksonville, but after the contest with the Dolphins all of the voices agreed that Leftwich should be the starter.
McCown, 28, has completed 59.7 percent of his throws for 1,617 yards and nine touchdowns and 10 interceptions in seven career starts in the NFL. McCown (6-3, 217) has completed 15-of-28 (53.6 percent) of his passes for 108 yards and tossed two touchdowns and no interceptions while being sacked three times in preseason. He has also rushed five times for 20 yards and earned a team-high in the QB rating department (86.6) thus far in preseason.
The starting quarterback job was on the line when Tampa Bay hosted Miami on Thursday night, but neither Leftwich nor McCown capitalized on the opportunity while playing a quarter and a half each.
Leftwich completed 9-of-17 passes for 100 yards while McCown completed 5-of-11 passes for 38 yards. Neither player threw a touchdown pass or led a TD drive, but Leftwich did engineer two scoring drives that ended with field goals. Leftwich explained the meeting that took place where he found out he won the job.
“It was almost at first like you were going to see the principal," said Leftwich. "Then you sit there and then he is straightforward with us and gives us the news. You know I was happy. At the same time, I understand, I felt Luke. You know like I said we are in this thing together. Our goal is to win us a championship. It all starts in Week 1. I like the direction we are heading in.”
For a transcript of comments by Morris, Leftwich, McCown, and offensive coordinator Jeff Jagodzinski click here.