Tampa Bay head coach Raheem Morris is sticking with his self-imposed deadline of the third preseason game to name the Buccaneers starting quarterback. Morris will be making his decision after the Bucs travel to Jacksonville to face the Jaguars on Saturday night.
"This better be the week," Morris said. "We've got to make a decision next week. Here's your week. Here's your show. They'll be graded on what they've done, what they're going to do this week, and next week I'll let you guys know who's going to be the starting quarterback."
Morris has indicated that the decision will come down to Luke McCown or Byron Leftwich as both of those veteran quarterbacks have received the majority of reps during practice ahead of the team's first-round draft pick, Josh Freeman, who is listed as the third-string signal caller, and second-year quarterback Josh Johnson. McCown, who has seven NFL starts, and Leftwich, who is more experienced with 48 NFL starts, have been virtually neck-and-neck throughout most of training camp with Leftwich perhaps pulling out to a slight lead towards the end due to the fact that he's thrown more touchdown passes.
McCown got the start last Saturday at Tennessee for two reasons. First, he has been with the Buccaneers organization since 2005, and second, the Bucs wanted to give Leftwich the start against Jacksonville, his former team, in the second preseason game.
Against Tennessee, McCown struggled to hit many big plays, completing 4-of-8 passes for just 19 yards while rushing for 13 yards on two carries to pick up two first downs. Leftwich threw a touchdown on his second pass attempt and led the Bucs on a field goal drive before halftime, but completed just 42 percent of his passes, going 6-of-14 for 61 yards.
Both quarterbacks took a sack and neither threw an interception.
Morris said he's liked certain aspects of each quarterback's game thus far in camp.
"For the most part, I've got the characteristics of the leader. I've seen characteristics from Luke and from Byron, so I've seen different things from both of them," Morris said. "Even Freeman – ‘Man that was a nice ball checking the ball at the line of scrimmage.' I've seen all things you want in a leader and I'm looking forward to seeing more this week and making a decision."
Morris said he would not stray from his mandate in naming a starter heading into the third preseason game – regardless of the outcome in Jacksonville.
"No way. We've got to make it right now," Morris said. "That third preseason game is when you go out there and you go through a game plan. You install for the Miami Dolphins and do all the things for in-season schedule and the players follow in-season schedule. I just think you've got to make a decision about the leader of your football team at that point."
When asked if he would stick with his starter throughout the season or re-evaluate his decision later in the year if the starting QB struggled, Morris was non-committal.
"That's hard for me to think like that because that would be talking about failure and I'm not interested in talking about failure right now," Morris said. "You pick a guy and you pick him for a reason. You're not winning by default around here."
However, both McCown and Leftwich have been mediocre, so Morris may indeed be picking the winner by default unless one of his signal callers rise to the occasion in Jacksonville.