Cover 3 is a weekly feature column written by PewterReport.com’s Tampa Bay Bucs beat writer Trevor Sikkema published every Tuesday. The column, as its name suggests, comes in three phases: a statistical observation, an in-depth film breakdown, and a “this or that” segment where the writer asks the reader to chose between two options.

Sikkema’s Story of the Week

You know, Tampa Bay offensive coordinator Byron Leftwich probably would have been a pretty good golfer, too. I mean, before he was approached by Bruce Arians, he was playing golf Monday through Thursday. With that kind of practice, we might have seen Leftwich in a semi-pro tournament on the Golf Channel one day.

If only Arians would have just left him alone – Bucs fans should be glad he didn’t.

With all due respect, Leftwich is one of those guys whose name would come up in a conversation among friends where one person says, “Do you guys remember Byron Leftwich? I wonder what he’s doing right now.”

What he’s doing is – what Arians would say – is fulfilling his calling; doing what he was meant to do, and that’s coach football.

Before he picked up a headset, Leftwich made a name for himself as a player as a first-round pick in Jacksonville. During his college days he played ball at Marshall for the Thundering Herd. His most memorable moment there is likely the image of him being carried off the field by his teammates after breaking his leg mid-game yet staying in to help lead a 17-point comeback against Akron in 2002.

The details of that story are what make it incredible, though. As if playing on a broken leg wasn’t enough, here’s the timeline of what happened.

Leftwich broke his leg in the first quarter of the game. After getting examined on the sideline and cleared to play, he went back in (on said broken leg) and led the team down the field for a touchdown. But, after the first quarter, his head coach insisted Leftwich go get X-rays. So he got in an ambulance. He ask the ambulance driver if he could take him back to the stadium after the test. When the ambulance driver said he couldn’t do that, Leftwich got out of the vehicle and rode to the hospital in a mini-van instead.

After getting X-rays and confirming his leg was broken, Leftwich then indeed returned to the stadium. After arriving, his coach was informed that Leftwich did have a broken leg, but if he could play through the pain, he couldn’t hurt it any worse.

So he played through the pain.

Though they would eventually lose, that display of determination is something that would follow him throughout his career.

“I just wasn’t ready to finish like that,” Leftwich said via Buccaneers.com. “I really wasn’t. I was in the Heisman Trophy race and those guys wanted me to win it. They were like hey, nobody is going to touch you, you’re going to win that Heisman. That’s how they were talking about it at the time. So I’m like alright, let’s go get it then. We just had that mindset, really.”

Being that kind of player is something that has helped him already in his coaching career, but that’s getting ahead of the story.

In 2003, Leftwich was drafted No. 7 overall by the Jaguars. It didn’t take long for him to get his first taste of NFL action, as he came in relief for the injured Mark Brunell in Week 4. From then on it was Leftwich’s show in Jacksonville – at least until it wasn’t. Just as he was beginning to hit his stride, re-occurring ankle injuries forced the Jaguars to move on from Leftwich just before the 2007 season.

For the next six years, Leftwich would sign a series of smaller deals, bouncing around the NFL. One of those deals was even in Tampa Bay under head coach Raheem Morris in 2009. But even when he was healthy, those early ankle injuries halted the progression of what could have been a great career for Leftwich. He won a Super Bowl ring in 2008 with the Pittsburgh Steelers as a backup to Ben Roethlisberger. So, in the end, he did achieve football’s greatest mountain top.

But not in the way he wished. And in 2012 when he retired from the game, the thought was that he never would.

As the game often does to those who understand it best, football called him back – or should I say Arians did.

Bucs OC Byron Leftwich and head coach Bruce Arians
Bucs OC Byron Leftwich and head coach Bruce Arians – Photo by: Cliff Welch/PR

Arians and Leftwich knew each other from their days in Pittsburgh. When Leftwich was the backup quarterback in 2008, Arians was the offensive coordinator. He was also the coordinator when Leftwich came back for the 2010 and 2011 seasons in Pittsburgh, too. With nothing to overthink from a game day starting quarterback stress level, Arians got to see what Leftwich was like on the white board, in the meeting rooms and as a teammate connecting with other players.

“He’s the smartest quarterback I’ve ever coached, including Peyton (Manning) and Andrew (Luck),” Arians said. “Bugging him to get off the golf course and start coaching, I knew how good he was going to be.”

It took some convincing, but in 2017 Leftwich joined Arians’ staff in Arizona as the quarterbacks coach – which is important because quarterbacks are and have always been Arians’ forte – his claim to fame. And now, just a few years removed from golfing four days a week, Leftwich is in full control as an offensive coordinator, a hands-on quarterbacks coach and the play-caller for Arians in Tampa Bay.

“I’ve been training guys for this job and I always said I would never give it up and look over anybody’s shoulder until I found one I knew could do it,” Arians said. “Byron I think is a rising star in this business. What he did with the interim title – it wasn’t even his offense, it was Mike McCoy’s offense – and he did a heck of a job as a rookie. So he’s more than ready.”

If you go back and listen to Arians talk about his early years of coaching, he was a perfectionist. He never wanted to delegate anything. He didn’t trust anyone. At Temple, he was the quarterbacks coach, offensive coordinator, play-caller, helped with wide receivers and was the head coach, in addition to being the recruiting coordinator. Coaching signal callers and calling plays; that’s been Arians’ bread and butter. That’s how he’s made it into this league. That’s what has made him a two-time NFL Coach of the Year.

And yet here he is trusting his final stint in the NFL to a 39-year-old former quarterback.

To understand why Arians has so much trust in Leftwich, you have to look at how Leftwich connects with the players.

“One thing he has over me and a lot of other coaches in the room is he’s been in that room as a player – he can relate to them on that level. He’s been out there on the grass he can relate to them on that level,” Bucs offensive line coach Harold Goodwin said. “So I think that earns him a lot of respect.”

Bucs OC Byron Leftwich, head coach Bruce Arians and Tom Moore
Bucs OC Byron Leftwich, head coach Bruce Arians and Tom Moore – Photo by: Cliff Welch/PR

Hollywood actor and former WWE wrestler Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson has a motto that he’s turned into a brand: “Blood, Sweat and Respect. First two you give, the last one you earn.”

What makes Leftwich a potential “rising star,” as Arians would say, is that he gets it. He understands where these quarterbacks are coming from, especially Jameis Winston. He’s been a highly drafted, black quarterback who has all the pressure in the world on his shoulders – in ways both in his sport and for a culture that took years to begin to trust minority quarterbacks at all. He knows how to relate, and he’s not that far removed from those years himself. He’s young, he’s energetic, and he’s poised.

“[Him] seeing things how I see it, [his] understanding from being in that pocket and not all from a strategic standpoint — it’s [been] excellent,” Winston said via ESPN.

Leftwich has been in the building for six months, and it already seems he and Winston are on the same page more so than any of Winston’s previous coaches. Sometimes it didn’t even feel like Winston and his former coaches were reading the same book, let alone on the same page.

You can point to a few areas (okay, maybe all of them) where this Bucs coaching staff is superior to ones in years past. Leftwich coaching Winston and calling this offense could very well be one of them.

Chemistry between the play caller and the play maker is important. On the next page we’ll highlight some of the ways we’re already seeing that chemistry blossom in Tampa Bay.

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Trevor Sikkema is the Tampa Bay Buccaneers beat reporter and NFL Draft analyst for PewterReport.com. Sikkema, an alumnus of the University of Florida, has covered both college and professional football for much of his career. As a native of the Sunshine State, when he's not buried in social media, Sikkema can be found out and active, attempting to be the best athlete he never was. Sikkema can be reached at: [email protected]

32 COMMENTS

  1. I loved Leftwich’s play calling. Lefty is going to attack all levels of the defense. I am not so sure if this offense will be as prolific as it was under Monken but it definitely will be a more balanced ball control offense while still taking shots downfield.

    And that is what I like about this offense so far. This offense is showing the potential to be a ball control offense via the air or run. Or it can flip to a empty backfield no huddle, take your shots downfield offense in a hurry. Part of that is also because the Bucs have the personnel at TE and WR to pull it off. But also because the RB’s are going to be a big part of the passing game too.

    The quick developing plays is going to be a godsend for this OL and the payoff is that Winston is going to take less hits. And the quicker decision making should lower Winton’s strip fumbles and INT’s.

    All in all I think the offense is in good shape. Just have to see how the defense and special teams comes together.

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  2. Trev, you might find this hard to believe, but there was a time in football, way before you were even a spremazoa, that Q.B.’s actually called there own plays! So yeah, I have all the confidence in the world that Lefty will be fine as OC, play caller. I think the biggest story here, is that BA believes Byron is a star in the making, and that he’s willing to let his coaches coach. It was good to see BA managing the game, instead of burying his head in the play sheet, oblivious to what was going on around him. Not only did he coach up offensive players coming to the sideline, he did the same with defensive players. Many think if we’re successful some day when BA steps down Bowles will take over. I think it will be Byron. The league has gone more to promoting young OC’s. Hopefully we don’t lose him before BA decides to hang it up again.

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  3. I think, like anything, there is such high potential for him while there always being the chance for it to fall apart. The difference is that Leftwich has BA to fall back on if things aren’t working so it’s like a safety net. If Leftwich is that intelligent, along with the fact that he’s been there before both as a starter and a backup, he has all the experience to be an OC. The only knock is that he hasn’t been doing it that long, but with the support system is experience he has around him in the Coaching Staff along with a talented QB, WRs, TEs and now possibly even RBs with an improving Oline, it could be the perfect storm for him to have success early and accelerate his learning curve. Everyone has to start somewhere. If he was never in the League it would be early, but with his experience I think it could be the next big thing. Only time will tell.

    Some Haters will call it being a cheerleader, but he is my teams OC so why would I hate? I choose to have confidence until proven wrong. I thought that first drive looked Beautiful and as time goes on and everyone gets comfortable with the new scheme and their roles in it things could really take off.

    The point about letting playmakers makes plays is nail on the head. Winston has been asked to do everything on his own which may have gone better in his second contract after better coaching in the first one, but a QB should not be the only one asked to make things happen. Gettinga run game going and the Oline blocking like they did and better will be the key to Defenses not just sitting back and waiting for Winston to throw around the field knowing there won’t be anything else to worry about. Dump offs and check downs and screens will be far more lethal and this Offense could be the best it’s ever been and Winston will build the confidence he has the potential for and things could be a lot more fun for everyone.

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    • Such a beautiful uplifting story from Trevor Sikkema on Byron Leftwich,
      I wonder if Trevor thought to wonder why Byron was playing golf and not being hired
      by any other teams , One possibility is he was 0-8 scoring 108 point ac a OC last year.
      Did anyone wonder why Bowles was on unemployment for running 28th worst defence last three years in jets.
      Or how about why they went to the NFL retirement home for coaches to find a head coach who had a losing record his last 2 years as head coach
      15-1-16 last 2 years.
      The Bucs fired 2 good coaches last year
      Todd Monken
      Brenston Buckner
      to replace them with bad coaches
      Todd Monken will be hired as a head coach after next year because of the success he will have Cleveland
      just about the time new GM fires Arians

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      • BAB logic = fired coaches from teams with losing records are a no good and a waste of time. Also, we should still have the coaches we fired from our prior staff that had huge losing records.

        That checks out.

        If we had just promoted Monken from OC to HC and not raided the “retirement home” for a proven HC, we would be a in a better spot – right? How did that go the last time we promoted the hot shot OC from within? One winning season and two 5-11’s.

        There is such a thing as having constructive critiques and criticisms towards management and the team, but you are bending over backwards to find something to complain about and contradicting yourself in the process.

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        • I said he should still be OC here in Tampa he ran a hell of alot better offence than Leftwich did at AZ.
          He will be a HC soon and we all know it.

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      • You should take the BUC off your screen name.

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  4. Excellent article trev.

    Love seeing Rojo put his head down and go straight into that defender on the inside run. Defender makes the tackle but Rojo puts him on his back hard. No chance we would have seen that from Rojo last year.

    Definitely agree on letting playmakers make plays. That pass to Godwin could have been wrapped for no/minimal gain, but godwin breaks the tackle, makes a move and TD baby. Gotta put the ball in the hands of your playmakers and give them a chance.

    I always felt that Koetters offenses never focused on letting WRs create separation or putting players in space, it was all about Winston needing to make a perfect throw into a tight window where the receiver would likely be instantly tackled. Every other team I watched I saw QBs passing to open receivers with room to make a play but not on my Bucs.

    Glad to see competent coaching/playcalling

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  5. No mention of Donavan Smith spending most of the running plays immediately flat on his ass. And he looked like he was standing in cement on every pass play!
    Good Lord.
    We will need a lot of check downs and short/intermediate throws to mask his laziness.

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  6. I loved watching the old highlights of Leftwich and his teammates carrying him down the field, It shows the respect his peers had for him.
    Honestly Trevor I don’t know how all of this is going to work out. Time will Tell. I know that this offense has a lot of weapons and I know Winston is capable. For me its not about how many yards we rack up or even how many points we score. The big question is can Leftwich use this offense to manage the game, Dictate Tempo, Control the Clock, Limit opponents Possessions and so on because that’s what the game has come down to. The Best coordinators know when to score not just how to score. Does he know when to go for it on 4th & 1 or send out the kicking team. These are the nuances of his position that have not been answered yet. Time will Tell!

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  7. If Arians trusts him I do. He didn’t come here at 66 to take years to train people to do what needs to be done.

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  8. So why not Leftwich? The Washington Redskins have promoted Kevin O’Connell to offensive coordinator after he previously served as passing game coordinator and quarterbacks coach. Kellen Moore officially named Cowboys offensive coordinator for 2019 and I seen him play and was not impressed! The Buffalo Bills, Brian Daboll. In 2018 he was Alabama’s offensive coordinator. The Miami Dolphins, Chad O’Shea. He was the New England Patriots wide receivers coach 2018. Indianapolis Colts, Nick Sirianni. He was hired by the Colts in 2018 but served as the Los Angeles Chargers wide receiver coach 2016–2017. The Denver Broncos, Rich Scangarello. He was the San Francisco 49ers quarterbacks coach 2017-2018. So, with all these new first time OC’s, I say again, “why not Leftwich?” I’m with “fredstar”… If Arians trusts him I do. He didn’t come here at 66 to take years to train people to do what needs to be done.

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  9. Excellent analysis of Leftwich’s play calling, analysis of the play design, and execution, Trevor. Other than Leftwich trusting Brate to block when that is his usual biggest failing and Auclair should have been in that position because he can block well and catch both, Leftwich was brilliant in his play choices which resulted in Jameis scoring a TD on his first series and the ball came out too quickly for Jameis to be pressured at all despite having to depend on D. Smith at LT. Also tremendous to see Cappa pulling and blocking effectively! The OL Coaches did a great job developing our OL to execute the power blocking scheme too. Very encouraging and showing BA knows exactly what he is doing but the real challenge will come when our first string has to play the Brown’s first string Friday week from now coached by Head Coach Kitchens from the BA tree. They looked tremendous whipping the Red Skins and they are loaded with top talent that is well coached. You can see why BA’s first choice was to be HC of the Browns!

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  10. There is a reason Arians was retired and Bucs fans will soon see why.

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    • According to you, he was never even going to come coach here. To say you’ve been wrong before would be a gross understatement.

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  11. In case any Trolls weren’t aware, BA didn’t call Leftwich off of the Golf Course before he brought him here. After Leftwich retired in 2012, BA called him in 2017 and got him off the Golf Course to come and intern with him in Arizona to give him his first Coaching gig because he knew he would be good at it. A general rule of thumb is if you are gonna be a Dick, at least know what you’re bein a Dick about.

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    • Arians called him off the fired list of coaches in AZ after the last place finish 2018 , Trevor said he was on the golf course, I just said he will wish he was back on the golf course half way thru this season.

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  12. Arians said the stars were lined up , I said the coaches he now has were all fired last year for bad performance
    and were available.
    Normally great coaches are not available.
    However I am sure ladies Spitfire is available if your looking, imagine that !

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  13. Troll can’t cover up the fact that he didn’t know his story and thought he nailed some stellar comment that BA pulled Leftwich off the Golf Course because he failed in AZ but he was so miserably wrong and didn’t nail it and just continue to be a failed mouth piece for Hate. So Sad, but not really 😂

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  14. I’d hire a Lady Coach before I hired a Troll to coach. That’s for damn sure!

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  15. So I guess by BAB’s logic the Patriots were stupid to have hired a failed head coach in Belichick at the time. I mean he didn’t win any championships in Cleveland as I recall. Not all Good coaches win championships. A lot of things have to come together for championship seasons to happen. Circumstances ( ie: injuries, strange bounces ) often dictate a team’s fate one way or the other every year.

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  16. Copy and paste from my post
    I wonder if Trevor thought to wonder why Byron was playing golf and not being hired
    by any other teams , One possibility is he was 0-8 scoring 108 point ac a OC last year.

    After being fired by AZ for last place offense in 2018 do you think Leftwich played any golf before the Miracle of Bucs finding a coach at the old coaches retirement home ?

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  17. ‘The Steelers cornerbacks were playing outside leverage (meaning they were wanting the wide receivers to go to the outside)…’
    I think what you meant to type is: The Steelers cornerbacks were playing INSIDE leverage (meaning they were wanting the wide receivers to go to the outside)

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  18. You guys just don’t get it. Middle name Ass is a neglected child (troll). He just wants attention and you guys keep giving it to him. I am calling for a boycott. DO NOT RESPOND TO ANY OF HIS POST!! Then see what happens.

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  19. Trevor, good article and I enjoyed it Go Bucs!

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  20. Good article. It should be pointed out though, that although a lot of fans have been down on Winston’s poor deep-throw accuracy (me among them), to be fair to Winston – on the deep pass to Perriman in this game, Winston really had no other option. Steelers blitzed a 5th man from outside, and Barber was forced to stay in to keep him off of Winston, so Barber couldn’t provide a short-pass checkdown option. That left only one middle-distance target (Godwin, who was not open on a slant 15-yds over the middle), and two long throws – Evans to the left, Perriman to the right. Winston went with the speedier guy.
    Perriman wasn’t really open on the throw anyway & it would have required Aaron Rodgers-type accuracy to complete it. As mentioned, Winston didn’t throw an ill-advised INT.

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  21. B ass, he wasn’t calling his offense in Az, it was McCoy’s who was fired during the season. The reason no other team hired him before BA called him is because he wasn’t even seeking a coaching job, but you know all that already. You remind me of a certain person with an orange face, and yellow hair who constantly makes shit up that isn’t true to cause dissension. Nice try, but we’re all on to you, maybe it’s time you go to your true teams website, and spout your nonsense.

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  22. I have faith in Byron until he shows a reason not to. So far it’s been all positive!

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  23. I’m going to say it one last time, if you just ignore B-A-B, he will eventually go away. Don’t give him the attention he so desperately craves. Don’t click on his posts, just treat him as if he is invisible. By the way, BA’s record as an offensive coordinator in Pittsburgh was outrageously great. His rankings in yardage differential were: 3, 2,6, 2, 1. I’d say he’s likely a good to great offensive mind. The one correction I would make to Trevor’s article is about the offensive playbook. I imagine that many of the plays were designed either by BA or in tandem with BA.
    Love how Cappa is playing.

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  24. Game plans are developed by the entire coaching staff prior to the game. The O.C. isn’t “winging it” on game day. I do prefer the H.C. overseeing everything and not having his head buried in the play sheet while oblivious to things like defense and special teams.

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  25. I think play calling is important…no doubt. Two things:

    1) Dirk used to (rightly) say, “we all run the same plays in the NFL, there isn’t some magical play the Patriots run that nobody else does”.
    2) If you don’t have execution at the end of the day, great play calling will end up with terrible results. Likewise, even a terrible play caller can look great if the execution is stellar.

    Play calling = important….but nowhere close to as important as player performance.

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  26. Appreciate the article. I don’t think that QB1 or the OC will be an issue with the structure that has been put in place.

    Need to see some real games to be sure though (Captain Obvious Statement.)

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