The Tampa Bay Buccaneers announced a starting quarterback on Saturday morning. Head coach Raheem Morris informed quarterbacks Byron Leftwich and Luke McCown that Leftwich would be the opening day starter against the Dallas Cowboys. After practice Morris, Leftwich, McCown, and offensive coordinator Jeff Jagodzinski spoke about the decision to name Leftwich the starter.
The questions from the media are in parenthesis and italics below.
Raheem Morris (Opening statement from Morris) Morris: "Alright man, starting quarterback, I guess it got leaked out you guys got twitter and text and all that stuff, but it is Byron Leftwich. We had our two guys in this morning. We had Luke and Leftwich in this morning. Again, I like to handle that stuff with those guys first. They deserve the right to tell those guys as men. Why or why not, any questions I like to get that out. They both looked each other in the eye and shook hands. They both agreed." (Why did you pick Leftwich?) Morris: "Tell you why? Just throughout the process, I guess I can tell you now, Leftwich had the early lead coming into camp. 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." (On the difference between McCown and Leftwich) Morris: "We're going to run the ball. We want to be a heavy play action team. That kind of fits the mode of what he does, play action, throwing the ball down the field in chunks, trying to get big plays, trying to generate big plays. That's what he showed he can do in the preseason and that's what he went out there and did. That's what he has been showing in the offseason, having that big time arm to throw it down the field consistently. Luke did a great job competing. I think we've seen the most aggressive Luke McCown throughout this camp that we've seen in years. The guys used to pick with him all the time calling him ‘check down McCown' and he wasn't that. He was far from that. He was a competitor. He took chances and had some success doing it. We just thought Leftwich was the better guy, and we're going with Leftwich right now."
(After all these years do you think that McCown is happy to be a backup again?) Morris: "Well you know, it is what you got to do, if that is the role you are put into, you got to be mentally tough enough to suck it up and do that. Luke will have to make that decision. He has to prepare every game like he is the starter, because again he is one snap away. He is one snap away. You have to go out every day and prepare to be a starter. Derek Jeter was cut four times before he became what he is for the Yankees. He was mentally tough enough to do that. That's what he did."
(What will be the order of the quarterbacks going into the first game?) Morris: "Well obviously we'll go Leftwich. 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." (On keeping four quarterbacks and Josh Johnson) Morris: "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." (Any reservations about keeping four quarterbacks?) Morris: "Well you know there are always reservations about it because you loose a roster spot, but I've been preaching from the beginning that I have to keep my best 53 guys on this football team. We have a long-term plan here, and Josh Johnson may be apart of that long-term plan. Now I got some weeks before I have to get down to 53, so I can have you guys talk about that for awhile. Right now it is about to be 75." (Will you have a quick-trigger to replace the quarterback?) Morris: "No, I've said that the whole time, I believe I've picked the guy, and I can't really look at failure. If I'm sitting here telling you ‘hey I'm going to pull him in Week 2.' I probably didn't pick the right guy. I'm probably not going to sit here and talk about failure with the man we picked today. I have to give him a chance. I have to believe in him. I say your mentality will force reality. I tell guys that all the time. If he don't have the mentality that he is going to go out there an win 16 games for us, he's probably not the right guy. Everybody wants to win and he has a winner's attitude. We all do actually. We are going to go out there and do that."
Byron Leftwich (Reaction to being named the starter?) Leftwich: "I'm very excited. 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." (How did you react to the last game) Leftwich: "When I watched the film I wanted to make sure I was going the right places with the ball. I've never been an inaccurate passer. I know I will hit those passes. I've never worried about that. The great thing about it is I was able to get to the right place with the ball. Some of those were on my third and fourth reads that I got to them. That's what I wanted to see. The balls that I missed, I missed them. Thank God it was preseason and not the regular season, but I learned from it. I learned a lot from it. I'll hit those when it counts. You want to hit them in the preseason, but I've never been an inaccurate guy. That was something that I haven't worried about my whole career, and I won't begin to worry." (Go over the meeting with Raheem) Leftwich: "It was almost at first like you were going to see the principal. 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 wins us a championship. It all starts in Week 1. I like the direction we are heading in." (How do you respond to the criticism of your long release, bad footwork, and lack of mobility?) Leftwich: "I've been responding to it for a long time (laughing). To be honest with you, I'll say this if you watch film, and you watch everybody else throw in this league. I might have a longer, you know, release, but I think I anticipate a whole lot better than a lot of guys. That's what I have to do to make up for my slow release. I just try to see the field as best as I can, and always get the ball to the right guy. Make sure I'm reading the coverages, we all know I'm not a guy who when it breaks down is, I'm not going to run and get you 15, 16 yards. I can run and get you five and get down. That's my game. That's the way I play. I understand and I really do believe that I can do some things on that football field that can help this team win. With the slow release I believe I can still get the job done. Do I work on my mechanics everyday? Yes. I work on them everyday, but to be honest with you that release is probably not going to change. It is going to be that way, and I have to do a better job of finding ways to make it work. If you look at guys all around the league. Guys throw the ball from everywhere. To be honest with you, I think one of the best quarterbacks in this league is Philip Rivers, and you all know how he throws the ball. It is different. It don't look the same, but it gets the job done and hopefully I can do that also." Jeff Jagodzinski (Why did you think Leftwich would be the better starter here?) Jagodzinski: "Well I think both those guys did a really good job, and the reason it took so long was the competition was so close. The way that we ran the football with Cadillac [Williams] and some of our backs, we're really encouraged as far as our play action game and pushing the ball down the field."
(Did Leftwich win the job in the Miami game?) Jagodzinski: "Well I think that it is an overall body of work. We went through the OTAs, mini-camps, and we went through camp now. I think it is the whole body of work it is not just one thing that you can say hey that's what it is." (What does Leftwich need to correct to be more consistent?) Jagodzniski: "I think just timing with our receivers. We didn't have Michael [Clayton] and [Antonio Bryant]. I think that is it. Just playing, the more you play together the more continuity you have, the same thing with our offensive line, our running backs, and tight ends, and everybody. The more you do it together the better you get." (So the running game decided who your quarterback was going to be?) Jagodzinski: "It wasn't the running game. What we saw as a staff was how Cadillac can affect a game, running backs can affect a game, and when you have to stop a running back. They are going to have to put people up in the box, which will give you an opportunity to throw it downfield. There is only going to be three guys back there, but someone is going to have to commit to the run.
(How important will it be for Josh Freeman to be able to learn from a starter like Leftwich?) Jagodzinski: "That is a great question because I had the opportunity in Green Bay watching Aaron Rodgers grow under Brett [Favre], and get a valuable experience. I didn't think that that Aaron, because you think you are ready to go, but just the speed and everything it is different from what you go through in college. I think it is going to be very, very valuable for him to see how you prepare for games. How you study for games. What you are looking for in tape."
Luke McCown (Were you surprised by the decision?) McCown: "A little bit I guess. You have to continue to believe that you did everything that you were asked to do, which I still believe that, but I've said all along when they name a starter it is about what ever is best for this team to win ball games. Byron is the starter, and I am going to do everything I can to help him be the best starter he can be, and at the same time and be ready to play if I'm called upon." (Did Raheem tell you that you would be the backup?) McCown: "Not in so many words but to me that is understood, but if you want the definitive answer you have to ask him."
(Raheem said you were the backup) McCown: "If that's what he said why you are asking me (laughing)? I think he figured that I understood that. You know which I did, again that is the role I'm asked to play right now. I don't have to agree with it, but for as long as I'll be a Buccaneer, I'm going to do everything that I can to help this organization win. That's my focus. If that is taking the role as a backup, and helping Byron, then I'll gladly do it if that helps us win."
(Do you want to stay with the Buccaneers?) McCown: "Hopefully for a long time. I'm not looking for anything, no."
(How tough is it to remain a backup?) McCown: "It is not easy, but again you guys know me. My faith and my opportunity lie in a sovereign God. That he has a plan for me specifically, and I'll lean on that. That makes it easy for me to go out and have fun, and have a great practice, a good practice, and be at peace with the decision. Because I feel like it is God's decision for my life. It is not really, not necessarily, me not winning the starting job it is just what God has for me right now. That makes it is easy for me to go out with peace." (Did Raheem say what made the difference for it to be Byron?) McCown: "No he said it could have gone either way. He said, he hinted the fact that it was probably the most competitive competition that he has been around, as far as being close. They leaned towards Byron in the end. Again that is what I feel is best for our team, to help us win, and I'll go with that. Again I don't have to agree with it, but I'll go with it, and I'll do what ever I have to do help us win."
(Was it a fair competition?) McCown: "Absolutely. I don't look back once and say this or that. I had opportunities. He had opportunities, and at the end of the day they had to make a decision."
(Do you feel you any regrets about your performance in the competition?) McCown: "Absolutely not. No not at all. That is another reason that it is easy for me right now. Had I gone out there and felt like I played bad, turning the ball over, missing reads, missing throws, then I could walk around and sulk and go ‘darn it I just blew an opportunity.' But I felt like I had the best training camp I've ever had. I felt like I've grown a lot as a player. I think the coaches have seen that. I'm not going to hang my head at all about this."