This story is intended to be read by Pewter Insider subscribers only. Sharing of the PI content with non-subscribers of this service can result in cancellation of your subscription to the service and/or further actions by the publishers.
While the competition for Tampa Bay's starting quarterback job still is open, all indications suggest Byron Leftwich will line up under center when the Bucs host the Dallas Cowboys in Week 1 of the regular season.
That might come as a surprise to some since Leftwich has taken too many sacks and thrown more interceptions than any quarterback in Tampa Bay's training camp, but the strong-armed signal caller has also made more plays, launching the ball deep downfield for touchdowns and showing tremendous toughness in the pocket. The players have also gravitated to Leftwich, who takes good command of the huddle.
Of course, that is not good news for Luke McCown, who has been more conservative in nature, which has frustrated some in the Bucs organization since the team's run-first offense calls for the quarterbacks to move the ball deep downfield off play-action.
While he has all the physical tools, including a strong arm and great mobility, McCown has just seven starts in the NFL compared to Leftwich's 36 career starts in the league. The difference in NFL starting experience has made a difference in this competition.
McCown started Tampa Bay's preseason opener vs. Tennessee, but didn't fare particularly well, completing 4-of-8 (50 percent) passes for just 19 yards.
After reviewing the game tape, sources told Pewter Report that McCown did not receive any favors from his receivers in the preseason opener, citing wide receiver Maurice Stovall running the wrong route on the first play of the game, and another receiver cutting a route short when he was supposed to run a deep route that was wide open for what could have been a big play.
The Bucs were also pleased with how well McCown used his legs in the game, which comes as no surprise since that is a strength of his.
Mobility is one of Leftwich's weaknesses, evidenced by the 18-yard sack he took vs. the Titans. The one thing Leftwich did in the game that McCown didn't do was stretch the field and find the end zone on his 24-yard TD strike to WR Brian Clark.
But the problem is neither quarterback showed the ability to lead a long scoring drive. Leftwich's 24-yard TD pass capped off a 24-yard drive due to a turnover by the defense.
Leftwich completed just 6-of-14 (42.9 percent) of his passes for one touchdown. He also was nearly sacked on a few plays before getting rid of the ball, which could have led to disaster.
The same sources that critiqued McCown's performance acknowledged that Leftwich needs to speed up his decision-making and avoid sacks. The Bucs are stressing this to Leftwich now more than ever because if he does start vs. the Cowboys, the pass rush likely will be out in full force, especially with Dallas' DeMarcus Ware, who led the league in sacks with 20 last year, on the field.
Unless McCown has a phenomenal game vs. the Jaguars on Saturday night, Leftwich likely will be named the starter heading into the third preseason game vs. the Miami Dolphins.
That would be a disappointment to McCown, who got a head start on Leftwich in terms of learning Jeff Jagodzinski's playbook because he had re-signed with the team before free agency started.
A few reports surfaced earlier this week that suggested the Bucs could release McCown should he not win the starting job. Based on conversations Pewter Report has had with people inside One Buc Place, we can tell you that will not happen.
Remember – Tampa Bay general manager Mark Dominik handed McCown a $2.5 million signing bonus in February, and Bucs, who have been the subject of several reports regarding financial woes this offseason, probably wouldn't be too anxious to release McCown with that type of money invested in him.
Tampa Bay is also determined to see how McCown fares in games, which is one of the reasons why it re-signed him. While he didn't have a great training camp, the Bucs re-signed McCown with the intention of playing him in games this year, and everything we've been told suggests the team is sticking to that plan.
The release of one of the veteran quarterbacks in Tampa Bay is a scenario Pewter Report floated out there earlier this offseason, but it involved Leftwich, not McCown. That's because Leftwich signed a two-year contract with Tampa Bay and is scheduled to earn $2 million in base salary, but he did not receive a signing bonus and would not earn any of his base salary if he were released before the start of the regular season.
Second-year QB Josh Johnson's impressive play in training camp seems to have fueled the theory regarding McCown possibly being released by the Bucs, but it's important to note that Johnson, who has indeed been impressive, has received a very limited number of reps in practices.
However, it's interesting to note that Pewter Report is hearing the Bucs are starting to give serious consideration to the idea of keeping four quarterbacks on their 53-man roster because of Johnson's impressive camp and preseason performance.
One thing is for sure — the Bucs aren't going to release Leftwich or McCown since rookie Josh Freeman and Johnson have combined for zero starts in the NFL, which would leave the Bucs void of experience and depth at quarterback. Tampa Bay is also dead set on leaving Freeman on the sideline as a rookie — the Bucs do not feel he is ready to play this season.
There are some inside the Bucs organization that want to see the team keep four quarterbacks on their active roster just as it did last year because Tampa Bay still believes Johnson, a former fifth-round pick, has a lot of upside and could actually compete for playing time next year. Both McCown and Leftwich are scheduled to enter the final years of their contracts in 2010.
Despite the fact that Freeman's performance in camp suggests he currently is the team's fourth-best quarterback, some inside the organization believe the Bucs are dead set on having Freeman become the starting quarterback next year. Team sources suggested Freeman's accuracy and decision-making process would improve with time and more playing experience, and that's exactly what will need to happen for the Bucs to receive a return on their investment, the 17th overall pick in the 2009 NFL Draft.
Perhaps the most interesting thing we've heard around One Buc Place is how some inside the organization are expecting to play more than one quarterback in 2009, and not necessarily because of injury.
Sources told Pewter Report that whoever starts for the Bucs could be on a short leash and replaced by the second-string signal caller within a few games if the starter struggles.
That sentiment was backed up by head coach Raheem Morris, who said he would make the competition for the starting quarterback job an open one each week in practice should neither Leftwich nor McCown take the opportunity and run with it.
Leftwich and McCown will be on Tampa Bay's 53-man roster this year. And given the fact that both players have struggled with consistency, there's a good chance they will each see time as the team's starting quarterback in 2009.