It's official. The Tampa Bay Buccaneers won't decide which player their starting quarterback will be for the 2009 regular season for several more days.
The earliest the Bucs will announce Byron Leftwich or Luke McCown as the team's starting signal caller is after Tampa Bay's third exhibition contest of the year, which is vs. the Miami Dolphins on Thursday night.
"Both of them played so well, I don't think it was fair for me to make the decision right now," Bucs head coach Raheem Morris explained. "I'm going to let them go another week."
The one thing Morris did decide Monday is Leftwich will start vs. the Dolphins. He said he wanted to basically give the quarterbacks a "do-over" from last week. Leftwich and McCown will each play a quarter and a half, and both players will have the opportunity to play with the first-team offense, which is expected to see action through the better part of three quarters.
Morris initially planned to name Tampa Bay's starting quarterback after Saturday night's game vs. Jacksonville, but after consulting with quarterbacks coach Greg Olson, offensive coordinator Jeff Jagodzinski and general manager Mark Dominik, among others, Morris decided the battle between Leftwich and McCown was too close to call. If necessary, the Bucs could use their fourth and final preseason game to determine the starter.
"We could have forced a decision this week," said Morris. "But we didn't have to. Why force it? Let it play out and let it happen. We have a good problem on our hands. It's a positive thing."
The 6-foot-6, 250-pound Leftwich completed 12-of-26 (46.1 percent) of his passes for 124 yards and tossed one touchdown in two preseason games. He also led two drives that resulted in field goals.
McCown (6-3, 217) completed 10-of-17 (58.8 percent) passes for 70 yards with two touchdowns, both of which came in Tampa Bay's 24-23 win over Jacksonville on Saturday night.
Leftwich has 46 starts to McCown's seven in the NFL. While McCown, who signed a two-year contract that included a $2.5 million signing bonus in February, has a better completion percentage than Leftwich thus far in preseason, Morris said everything is being taken into consideration when evaluating both signal callers.
"They've both had some receivers drop passes, so you can't just look at the percentages," said Morris. "You have to factor everything into the decision and look at the tape."
Leftwich, who also inked a two-year deal with the Bucs this offseason, and McCown have each started a preseason game for Tampa Bay, but both players have been without starting wide receivers Antonio Bryant (knee) and Michael Clayton (hamstring) due to injury. According to Morris, the receivers' absences have actually helped in his evaluation of the quarterbacks.
"I actually think that's a blessing in disguise," said Morris. "That's because we all know that sometimes a great receiver can make a quarterback look really good. We have guys fighting for that third, fourth and fifth spot, and they're all the same type of guys – hard workers.
"I think it's been a benefit to me in terms of evaluating the quarterbacks. I'm sure it hasn't been a benefit to [the quarterbacks], though."
Morris called both quarterbacks in to his office early Monday morning to let them know of his decision to extend the competition through the preseason contest vs. Miami.
"It's just another week to evaluate us. That's fine with Byron and myself," said McCown. "We're going to keep competing and pushing each other. We really feel like whichever direction Coach Morris decides to go – we're going to have a good football team."
Both players said they'd be fine with whatever decision Morris makes, but they're eager to have a decision made with the 2009 regular season quickly approaching.
"Right now it's really out of our hands," said Leftwich. "You just have to go out there and play good football, and just see what happens. I think we both want the decision made shortly. We both expected it would be made today. It wasn't, so we'll see what happens."
During his press conference on Monday, Morris attempted to dismiss a report that suggested the Glazers would have significant say in deciding whether Leftwich or McCown starts for the Bucs.
"I don't think [ownership] wants anything bounced off them. I think it's just common courtesy to let them know what is going on," said Morris. "They let the football stuff be run by [general manager] Mark Dominik and I.
"It's a Raheem Morris decision. But it's always a ‘we-fense' thing. I'm not one of those guys that is going to ask your opinion with no intention of actually considering it."
The decision Morris makes in terms of which quarterback starts vs. the Dallas Cowboys on Sept. 13 will not just impact Leftwich and McCown. Morris suggested the loser of the starting quarterback competition isn't necessarily going to be guaranteed the backup job because of the first-round pick the team has invested in rookie QB Josh Freeman.
"The backup decision will be based on everybody's body of work, how it fits, who fits with whom, which direction you want to go and how do you get Josh Freeman reps to get him ready? All those things have been discussed," said Morris. "Ultimately, the 10-year plan is [Freeman], so you have to have a plan to get him ready, and there are some different options there."
The quarterback position is arguably the most important one on any NFL roster, which explains why Bucs fans are so anxious to have their starting quarterback determined. Apparently they're not the only ones excited about the decision, which will come sooner rather than later.
"You're talking about the starting quarterback. I'm kind of excited about it," Morris said. "It's a good problem to have. We're not talking about two guys that went 2-of-14 or something. These are two guys that had pretty good games and made pretty good throws. I was just looking at it like, ‘Damn, somebody choke.'"
BUCS-DOLPHINS GAME WILL NOT BE BLACKED OUT IN BAY AREA Although there still are a limited number of tickets available for Tampa Bay's preseason home opener vs. the Miami Dolphins, Thursday night's contest at Raymond James Stadium will not be blacked out locally, the Buccaneers told the media Monday.
That means Bucs fans not attending the preseason contest will be able to watch Tampa Bay's nationally televised preseason game vs. in-state Miami.
To purchase tickets to the Bucs-Dolphins game on Thursday night, call TicketMaster at 1-800-745-3000.
INJURED PLAYERS RETURN TO PRACTICE Several injured Bucs players returned to practice Monday, including center Jeff Faine (groin), running back Earnest Graham (ankle), tackle Demar Dotson (knee), wide receiver Kelly Campbell (quad), and safeties Jermaine Phillips (shoulder), Will Allen (shoulder) and Donte Nicholson (quad).
Bucs WR Antonio Bryant (knee surgery), kicker Matt Bryant (hamstring), WR Dexter Jackson (ankle), RB Kareem Huggins (knee) and tight end John Gilmore (calf) did not practice Monday.