Tampa Bay head coach Raheem Morris said since the start of training camp that he intended to name his starting quarterback after the second preseason contest of the year.
While he still has time to meet his self-imposed deadline, Morris suggested Sunday that he and the team are giving serious consideration to extending the competition through Tampa Bay's third preseason contest vs. Miami on Thursday night.
"We're going to prepare them all as if they're starters right now," said Morris. "[Extending the deadline to name a starter through Thursday's game] might be a thought, and it could be brought up in our next meeting. I don't really want to say anything more than that right now because we haven't had our meeting yet, but that may be a thought. We might extend it – it might go to overtime. That's a good thing, too. Initially, you set a deadline, but sometimes deadlines are set to be broken."
The competition between veteran signal callers Luke McCown and Byron Leftwich has been tight, with each quarterback starting one preseason contest so far.
Leftwich, 29, signed a two-year contract with the Bucs as a free agent during the offseason. The former first-round pick out of Marshall has completed 58.6 percent of his career passes for 9,624 yards and tossed 54 touchdowns and 38 interceptions in 46 starts with Jacksonville, Atlanta and Pittsburgh.
That playing experience is significantly more than that of McCown, who 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.
The 6-foot-6, 250-pound Leftwich completed 12-of-26 (46.1 percent) passes for 124 yards and one touchdown in two preseason games. He also led two drives that resulted in field goals.
McCown (6-3, 217), who re-signed with the Bucs before the start of free agency, inking a two-year deal that included a $2.5 million signing bonus, completed 10-of-17 passes (58.8 percent) for 70 yards with two touchdowns, both of which came in Tampa Bay's 24-23 win over Jacksonville on Saturday night.
McCown's impressive outing vs. the Jaguars, along with the recent emergence of rookie Josh Freeman and second-year QB Josh Johnson, has apparently given Morris pause and prompted the head coach to solicit the feedback of quarterbacks coach Greg Olson, offensive coordinator Jeff Jagodzinski and general manager Mark Dominik, among others, before picking a starting quarterback or choosing to extend the competition through the third preseason game of the year.
"More than one of them has stepped out of their box and showed some things," said Morris. "What Luke did last night was really good. Josh Freeman played well, and had he gotten a few more snaps maybe it could have been really good. Leftwich, had he hit that pass to [Mike] Clayton, it might have been a great night for him. All three quarterbacks played well last night. Last week, everybody was knocking on Josh Johnson's door. They've all done a good job. That's why I'm saying that we might have to go upstairs, reevaluate this thing and figure out what I want to do with my deadline."
The Bucs will enter the 2009 regular season with at least three quarterbacks – Leftwich, McCown and Freeman, but the QB depth chart is a work in progress. The team could choose to use its final two preseason contests to determine who the starting quarterback is and whether to keep Johnson as a fourth quarterback, just as the Bucs did in 2008.
"The decision was tough from the beginning," Morris said. "Dating back to the OTAs, Josh Freeman decided he wanted to play and wanted to be part of the competition. You saw Josh Johnson towards the end of training camp and in that first preseason game say, ‘I want to play, too.' You've seen Leftwich come on, and then last night when Luke got in the game he woke up and said, ‘Don't forget about me.' The decision has been tough all along. With guys playing better like that, that's what you want. We asked for competition and we're getting it.
"There are no givens – there will be a first guy picked, a second guy picked and a third guy picked. With the way they're playing, I mean, there was a time when I said I wouldn't keep four quarterbacks, but I don't even know if that's true anymore. We have to go back and evaluate everything, and keep the best 53 people."