Tampa Bay Buccaneers
It's your team, Byron
TAMPA - In the end, it didn't come down to experience or the way he has played in the exhibition games or even the belief that no one else in their camp is better suited to serve as a mentor for young Josh Freeman. No, the Bucs' decision to name Byron Leftwich their starting quarterback came down to one simple thing: the game plan. The Bucs plan to run the ball this season. They plan to run it a lot, and they believe they will run it well enough to sucker opponents into committing eight and sometimes even nine defenders to stopping the run. When that happens, the Bucs plan to fake another run into the line and throw deep, and in their final evaluation they deemed that Leftwich and not Luke McCown gave them the best chance to hit those deep throws."It's not that Luke doesn't do that well," Bucs coach Raheem Morris said. "But Byron is a little more special as far as what he can do with the play-action pass in terms of pushing the ball downfield. "That kind of fits the mold of what he does best - play-action, throwing the ball downfield in chunks, generating big plays. He has the big-time arm to do that, and that's what we want to be - a heavy play-action team." The decision puts the 29-year-old Leftwich in the driver's seat of an offense at the start of a season for the first time since 2006, his last year with Jacksonville. That season ended with Leftwich on injured reserve, the result of an ankle injury, and he has appeared in only eight games since, including two starts, both for the Falcons in 2007. "I've been working my tail off to get back to this point," said Leftwich, who entered the league as a first-round draft pick (seventh overall) of the Jaguars in 2003. "This is what I wanted, and I'll take full advantage of it. And I think it'll mean a lot of good things for the Bucs. I'm very excited. When I get home I'll probably scream in the living room and let all my emotions out." While Leftwich screams, McCown may cry. He has spent six years trying to prove to NFL teams that he's worthy of a starter's role and he said this was his best opportunity to do that. He seized that opportunity by having what he said was his best training camp ever. Despite being atop the depth chart at the start of camp, however, he falls back into a familiar role as backup. "It's not easy (to accept), but it's the role I'm being asked to play right now," McCown said. "Don't have to agree with it, but for as long as I'm a Buccaneer I'm going to do everything I can to help this team win." McCown's tenure as a Buc doesn't figure to end anytime soon. Though rumors have circulated suggesting the Bucs might trade a quarterback, Morris said McCown will be his backup on opening day against Dallas. "We'll go with Leftwich, and if something happens to Leftwich we'll have McCown," Morris said. "And then we'll have Josh (Freeman) over there holding a clipboard and wearing an earpiece and we'll just see what happens after that." What the Bucs envision is a scenario in which their quarterback spends most of his day turning around and handing the ball to running backs Earnest Graham, Derrick Ward and Cadillac Williams. It's not the most glamorous of scenarios for an NFL quarterback, but Leftwich believes it's a wise approach, and not just because the Bucs appear to have a wealth of talent at running back. "I think that (play-action approach) suits any quarterback," Leftwich said. "I mean, you've got to be able to run the ball. You won't see anyone dropping back and throwing 40 or 50 times and winning a game anymore. It's just too hard. "There's too many hits on the quarterback, and you're asking the line to do too much. So you have to run the ball, and with the backs we have there are going to be some big-play opportunities, and I believe I'll take advantage of them." Leftwich has taken fairly good advantage of such opportunities. He is 24-22 as a starter, but the Bucs believe he needs to correct some flaws if he is going to improve on that mark. The biggest has to do with getting rid of the ball. Leftwich has a very slow delivery, and that tends to lead to other problems, such as sacks (he has taken 85 in 54 games) and fumbles (32 in 54 games). "We're aware of that, and he has to be aware of that," Morris said. "The good thing is he's never had an issue with decision making, and that's pretty critical. "But some of those other things, the sluggish feet in the pocket, we do have to get all that cleaned up and make him a little bit better. But we also have to do what he does best, and that's what we intend on doing."
Reporter Roy Cummings can be reached at (813) 259-7979.