Steelers' Leftwich rediscovers comfort zone
By Scott Brown
Friday, October 3, 2008
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Wide receiver Hines Ward called the player who has been on the Steelers for less than three months a "locker room favorite."
Steelers coach Mike Tomlin said backup quarterback Byron Leftwich has been "awesome" and a "breath of fresh air."
If Leftwich is already this well-liked among the Steelers coaches and players, one can only imagine how he will be received this weekend when he makes a homecoming of sorts. Leftwich spent the first four years of his career in Jacksonville, and he figures to press more flesh than a politician before and after the Steelers' game against the Jaguars.
One person that doesn't figure to receive a warm greeting from Leftwich is Jaguars coach Jack Del Rio. And the relationship -- or perhaps lack thereof -- between the two is a major reason why Leftwich is in Pittsburgh filling the behind-the-scenes but vital role of backup to quarterback Ben Roethlisberger.
"We didn't see eye to eye," Leftwich said of Del Rio. "I never felt like I was his guy from the beginning."
What may seem odd about that is the two were together from their beginning in Jacksonville.
Del Rio made Leftwich his first draft pick as coach of the Jaguars (seventh overall in 2003), and the latter started 44 of the 46 games he played for Del Rio in Jacksonville.
Leftwich said he was preparing to start again last season when Del Rio made an abrupt switch at quarterback and named David Garrard the starter. Leftwich, who had missed the final 10 games of the 2006 season with an ankle injury, didn't just find himself out of a job; he found himself looking for a new team as well.
In retrospect, it's hard to argue with the decision Del Rio made.
Garrard finished third only to Tom Brady and Roethlisberger in passer rating last season and led the Jaguars to the divisional round of the AFC playoffs.
Still, what happened at the end of his career with the Jaguars blindsided Leftwich.
That is why he probably won't be seeking out Del Rio before or after the game.
"It was unfortunate for me that it happened," Leftwich said, "but at the same time, I'm happy to be a Pittsburgh Steeler right now."
The Steelers are more than happy that Leftwich happened to be available after Charlie Batch broke his collarbone in early August.
The 6-foot-5, 250-pounder has embraced his role with the Steelers, and he filled in capably when Roethlisberger left the Eagles game Sept. 21 with a hand injury.
Leftwich completed 4 of 7 passes for 60 yards and engineered a late drive that stalled in Eagles' territory after Tomlin opted to go for it on fourth down.
There is a small chance Leftwich could return to Jacksonville as a starting quarterback.
Roethlisberger didn't practice Thursday because of a tender shoulder stemming from the A/C joint sprain he suffered in the first game of the season. Tomlin said he expects Roethlisberger to play against the Jaguars but added, "We've got all the confidence in the world in Byron."
It is not hard to see why.
Leftwich, who is only 28, still prepares and carries himself as if he were a starter. Yet, as Ward pointed out, he also understands his place as a backup and accepts that the only throwing he is likely to do on game days is warming up the wide receivers.
"He kind of walks around with that kind of air about him," Tomlin said, "but at the same time, he's very humble."
Scott Brown can be reached at [email="email@example.com"]firstname.lastname@example.org[/email] or 412-481-5432