Bucs head coach Raheem Morris has said all along that the preseason games will play a big role in determining who Tampa Bay's starting quarterback is in 2009. By most accounts, Byron Leftwich and Luke McCown played relatively even during the offseason with McCown entering training camp with a slight lead due to a better mandatory mini-camp, but Leftwich heading into Saturday night's game at Jacksonville with a marginally better training camp and showing in last week's 27-20 loss at Tennessee.
All we've heard during training camp from Morris is that he wanted to see how these guys would perform under the lights in the preseason and that would play the deciding role in which quarterback he would ride with during his first season as head coach.
If Morris is going to stick with his decision of naming a starting quarterback after the first two preseason games – and using those contests as a final exam that weighs more in the evaluation than OTA, mini-camp or training camp performances – then by his own criteria, Luke McCown should be the clear-cut starter. Here's why.
Through two games, Leftwich has completed 12-of-26 passes (46.1 percent) for 124 yards and one touchdown. Leftwich has also led Tampa Bay on two field goal drives.
McCown completed 10-of-17 passes (58.8 percent) for 70 yards with two touchdowns. If you are counting points in the preseason, McCown put 14 on the scoreboard while Leftwich put up 13.
Leftwich and McCown both benefitted from short fields on their first touchdown passes in the preseason, and each quarterback played better when going up against the second-string defense than the starters. Both signal callers also suffered a similar amount of dropped passes, too.
As evidence of how close Tampa Bay's QB derby is, both quarterbacks produced the same amount of first downs for the offense when at the helm. Tampa Bay had eight first downs, including a touchdown, with Leftwich, who picked up five of those with his arm.
McCown also presided over eight first downs, including two touchdowns, with his arm accounting for four of those and his scrambling ability moving the chains for the fifth.
Aside from a whopping 12.7 completion percentage differential that works in McCown's favor is the fact that he was much sharper on third downs. Granted, both McCown and Leftwich presided over two three-and-out series in the preseason. But outside of that, McCown was clearly more efficient.
Working against Leftwich is the fact that he was not nearly as accurate as McCown in third down passing. McCown was 3-of-7 (42.8 percent) in converting third downs by passing, including a touchdown compared to Leftwich, who was a meager 1-of-8 (12.5 percent) in converting third downs. Included in Leftwich's eight attempts was his 17-yard sack at Jacksonville on third down.
Both Leftwich and McCown were also bailed out by a defensive penalty on third down, which was not included in their tallies.
Even isolating on both quarterbacks' touchdown strikes, McCown proved to be the more accurate passer. Leftwich's 24-yard touchdown pass to wide receiver Brian Clark at Tennessee was thrown behind him. If not for some acrobatics by Clark while making the catch, Leftwich may not have logged a touchdown pass in the preseason.
McCown's touchdown strikes against Jacksonville were on target. His 17-yard laser down the middle to tight end Jerramy Stevens was right on the money, as was his 9-yard slant to rookie Sammie Stroughter.
Yes, new offensive coordinator Jeff Jagodzinski wants big plays down the field in the passing game, and Leftwich has shown the ability over his career to deliver. However, Leftwich's longest pass of the preseason was his 24-yard touchdown pass to Clark, and the touchdown bombs Leftwich threw routinely during training camp were never detonated in the preseason games.
Jagodzinski also wants efficiency and that's clearly McCown's game due to his overall accuracy and accuracy on third down. It also doesn't hurt that Jagodzinski likes a mobile quarterback and McCown is a gifted runner.
Morris would be wise to wait until after the third preseason game, which is against Miami on Thursday night, to name his starter, but won't deviate from his original plan on naming the starter this week prior to facing the Dolphins, despite the difficulty in picking a winner in what has been a tight race up until Saturday night.
"It was going to be tough regardless," Morris said. "They both went out tonight and they both had pretty good drives. Two of the drives that Byron had put us in position to get a good punt off. On the other one, he went down there and got a field goal.
"Luke came out and got a good special teams play by Stroughter and he capitalized on it and went into the [end] zone. Then he came back out and got us in the [zone] again. They both played well. We'll have to go back and evaluate and sit down as a coaching staff and sit down as an organization and we have to make our decision. We'll make it this week and we'll go into the Miami game with our starter."
Morris may go ahead and name Leftwich the starter for the 2009 season as sources tell Pewter Report he has been leaning in that direction for some time due to the fact that Leftwich has more NFL experience and swagger. But should he do so, Morris will have to sell the public on the reasoning behind picking the signal caller with the 73.2 QB rating in the preseason and a completion percentage of less than 50 percent rather than the guy with a 107.4 QB rating.
Scott Reynolds is in his 25th year of covering the Tampa Bay Buccaneers as the vice president, publisher and senior Bucs beat writer for PewterReport.com. Author of the popular SR's Fab 5 column on Fridays, Reynolds oversees web development and forges marketing partnerships for PewterReport.com in addition to his editorial duties. A graduate of Kansas State University in 1995, Reynolds spent six years giving back to the community as the defensive line coach for his sons' Pop Warner team, the South Pasco Predators. Reynolds can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org