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fordfixer
02-18-2009, 11:42 PM
Leftwich regroups as Steelers backup, in demand again
Feb. 16, 2009
By Pete Prisco
CBSSports.com Senior Writer

http://www.cbssports.com/nfl/story/11385793/2

A year ago, he was a player discarded by two teams. The scouts were saying he was injury-plagued, that his delivery was too deliberate, his throwing motion too much like a pitcher's windup.

Byron Leftwich was a man without a team, a man wondering if he would ever get the chance to start in the NFL again.

They were calling him a bust. He knew better.

"I never doubted I could start," Leftwich said recently. "Never. That was for other people."

His chance to start is coming again, probably this season.

Spending the 2009 season as a backup quarterback to Ben Roethlisberger with the Pittsburgh Steelers wasn't what Leftwich wanted, but in reality it might be just what his career needed. He got a Super Bowl ring and he got something else:

He became "hot" again. Hard to believe it took being a backup to make that happen.

"It's been great for me as a person and it's been great for me as a player," Leftwich said. "Football is a humbling sport and having the opportunity to not be the guy (starting QB) is a real humbling thing."

As the NFL readies for the open of the free-agency period in a couple of weeks, Leftwich is among the quarterbacks expected to get solid interest from several teams. If Kurt Warner stays in Arizona as expected -- provided he doesn't retire -- Leftwich could get the most attention from quarterback-needy teams.

He's relatively young at 29, has a rocket for an arm, is a good kid and works hard at the task.

Why wouldn't one of the quarterback-depleted teams -- see New York Jets -- take a shot on Leftwich? Would a Jets fans rather have Brett Ratliff, Kellen Clemens or Eric Ainge starting instead of Leftwich? I doubt it.

"I just need that chance," Leftwich said. "I know I can do it."

In the summer of 2007, Leftwich was entering his fifth season with the Jacksonville Jaguars, the team that picked him in the first round of the NFL Draft in 2003. Despite coming off an injury-shortened season, Leftwich entered training camp as the starter. But nine days before the season opened, Leftwich was released. That was a decision made by coach Jack Del Rio, who had a well-documented personality conflict with his quarterback.

Leftwich was devastated. He didn't understand why the move was being made -- or the timing of it. He did know that he and Del Rio had issues.

I asked Leftwich last year when the Steelers played in Jacksonville if he would shake Del Rio's hand. He laughed.

"I didn't shake it when I was there, why would I now?" he said.

There were many inside the Jacksonville organization who didn't want Leftwich to be released. They were shocked when the move was made, some of them even calling friends around the league to try and get him a job.

The Atlanta Falcons signed him, and he started two games, but he was hurt again during one of those starts, taking a pounding against the New Orleans Saints. The coaching staff in Atlanta liked him, but the new regime released him last spring in large part because his contract was too hefty -- not because they didn't think he could play.

He was jobless again. It stayed that way throughout the offseason. There was some talk Leftwich was being blackballed, bad information spreading that he wasn't a good teammate, a claim that held no merit, according to the Jaguars players I've talked with over the years.

When the Steelers called and asked him to work out after Charlie Batch went down in preseason, Leftwich agreed to a one-year deal for $685,000. He knew the Steelers were Roethlisberger's team, but he also knew he was one injury away from playing time.

He threw 14 passes in the first seven games, coming in during mop-up time or when Roethlisberger left a game late banged up as he did against the Eagles. But he got a real chance to show the league he could still play in a Monday night game against the Washington Redskins on Nov. 3.

Playing in front of 44 friends and family members in his hometown, having grown up a Redskins fan, he lit up the Redskins in relief of an injured Roethlisberger. He was 7-of-10 for 129 yards and a touchdown to rally the Steelers to a 23-6 victory.

He made believers out of the doubters again.

"I think it would have been tough if I had gone all 16 games without having the chance to play, but I played in four or five games and some of them were important football games that we had to win," Leftwich said. "To have that experience, that kept me on my toes. It kept me preparing the way that I always prepare, making sure to always stay on my toes and make sure I stay ready."

Sitting also allowed him to get healthy again. He has had surgery on both ankles, which limited his ability to move around in the pocket at times in Jacksonville. Never known for his mobility, that restricted him even more.

"I just think for the first time in a long time I'm healthy and I'm able to show people who doubted me because I was injured that I can still play this game," Leftwich said. "It takes a toll on you, but I didn't realize that until this year. I realize how good I feel right now. I know I've never felt like this. I've never felt as good as I feel now, and that's probably because I'm not playing."

Steelers coach Mike Tomlin went out of his way to praise Leftwich during the season and again at the Super Bowl. Some of his teammates privately raved about him to me after a Dec. 7 game against the Cowboys. One even wondered if the team might be better off with Leftwich starting instead of Roethlisberger, quite surprising now after the way Roethlisberger played in the Super Bowl.

In his four seasons in Jacksonville, he was 24-20 as a starter. He threw 52 touchdown passes and 36 interceptions, but that includes 16 interceptions as a rookie starter. In his final 17 games in Jacksonville, he threw 22 touchdown passes and 10 interceptions.

Is his windup long? Yes. But receivers who've played with him say his passes get to them as fast as those of a quarterback with a lesser arm who doesn't have that big windup.

Leftwich deserves another chance to start. In this free-agency period, a smart general manager will give him that chance again.

DukieBoy
02-19-2009, 12:17 AM
Good article.
Here's hoping Byron gets his chance with a very good NFC team with a shot into the playoffs.
Vikings are a QB and a receiver away from being a very good offense.

stlrz d
02-19-2009, 12:50 AM
Good article.
Here's hoping Byron gets his chance with a very good NFC team with a shot into the playoffs.
Vikings are a QB and a receiver away from being a very good offense.

And the Vikings have the O line to protect that immobile lug with the egg timer wind up too.

Scarletfire1970
02-19-2009, 06:24 AM
So which Steeler player thought we would be better off starting Leftwich over Ben?

proudpittsburgher
02-19-2009, 09:17 AM
I feel really comfy with lefty back there in case something happens to Ben, moreso than I do with Batch, but I understand how things work. Best case scenario would be that no one takes a run at Lefty, and he stays with the Steelers, but I know that's not likely to happen.

Northern_Blitz
02-19-2009, 10:18 AM
I feel really comfy with lefty back there in case something happens to Ben, moreso than I do with Batch, but I understand how things work. Best case scenario would be that no one takes a run at Lefty, and he stays with the Steelers, but I know that's not likely to happen.

It also wouldn't be bad if he got a starter's contract somewhere, and we got a 3rd or 4th round comp next year for a guy who was a back up.

SteelBucks
02-19-2009, 11:00 AM
So which Steeler player thought we would be better off starting Leftwich over Ben?

Leftwich. :wink:

proudpittsburgher
02-19-2009, 01:43 PM
So which Steeler player thought we would be better off starting Leftwich over Ben?

Leftwich. :wink:

:lol: :lol:

Actually, from what I've heard, Lefty got the job because he better understood his role than Daunte did. Culpepper was arrogant enough to think he should be competing for the starting job. Byron, on the other hand, knew he wanted to compete for the starting gig, but that wasn't realistic, so he used his time as an audition for other teams. I think it was a very professional arrangement between two parties (the Steelers and Byron) and it worked out smashingly for both of them. Byron got more of an audition than he might have hoped, and a ring to boot. Lefty got us through a tough time (Washington game) and the Steelers never really had to worry a whole lot about Ben going down to injury. As I said, I feel more comfortable with Lefty backing up Ben, but I will harbor no ill will. They both used each other equally to get what they needed professionally.

Scarletfire1970
02-19-2009, 02:17 PM
Seriously, who was the Steelers player who wanted Leftwich? Wonder how he feels now.

proudpittsburgher
02-19-2009, 02:52 PM
Seriously, who was the Steelers player who wanted Leftwich? Wonder how he feels now.


I'm pretty sure it wasn't anyone who had to catch the ball. I can't imagine how bad it feels to have a finger broken on a 90 mph screen pass.

phillyesq
02-19-2009, 03:05 PM
I feel really comfy with lefty back there in case something happens to Ben, moreso than I do with Batch, but I understand how things work. Best case scenario would be that no one takes a run at Lefty, and he stays with the Steelers, but I know that's not likely to happen.

It also wouldn't be bad if he got a starter's contract somewhere, and we got a 3rd or 4th round comp next year for a guy who was a back up.

I think this could work out well either way. I'd love to have Leftwich return as the backup, but if he doesn't, I hope he signs a big money deal elsewhere.

SidSmythe
02-19-2009, 09:14 PM
If he was smart he'd sign a friendly deal with a team like the VIKINGS. Good O-Line, running game, etc.

Instead of trying out a crap team like he did w the Falcons and almost ruined his career