According to The Sporting News in Sunday's on-line version, the Pittsburgh Steelers brought in free agents Byron Leftwich and Daunte Culpepper. Leftwich, who starred at Marshall from 2000-2002, and Culpepper, a former UCF quarterback who played with the Herd's Randy Moss while the pair were with the Minnesota Vikings, to try out at Pittsburgh with backup quarterback Charlie Batch, who played in the Mid-American Conference when Chad Pennington was the Marshall quarterback, out of action thanks to a injury in the pre-season win over the Philadelphia Eagles on Thursday. After the workouts, Leftwich signed for $650,000 for this season and Culpepper was cut.
Batch broke a collarbone in Friday's preseason opener, leaving the Steelers without a veteran behind starter Ben Roethlisberger, who played against Leftwich when Roethlisberger was the quarterback with the Miami, Ohio, RedHawks. With Dennis Dixon, the rookie out of Oregon, and Mike Potts on the depth chart, Steelers officials decided to try the two experienced quarterbacks in what could be an open audition for backup.
Culpepper, 31, had spent last season with the Oakland Raiders after a season with the Miami Dolphins. He's best known for his seven seasons with the Minnesota Vikings, when he and Moss were the most feared quarterback-receiver combination in the NFL. He was a I-AA All-American at UCF in 1997-98, and is the Knights all-time career leader in attempts (1,391), completions (889), yards (11,412) and touchdowns (84) at UCF.
Byron Leftwich, with the injury to former Eastern Michigan and Steelers back-up QB Charlie Batch on Thursday in the pre-season win over the Philadelphia Eagles, has been signed as a backup quarterback for the Pittsburgh Steelers. photo by Greg Perry from the files of goherd.com
Leftwich, 28, was a long-time starter for the Jacksonville Jaguars after being drafted in the first round, seventh pick overall, in the 2003 draft despite leg injuries at Marshall in 2001 and 2002, including his offensive line carrying him down the field in a famous ESPN clip against Akron in MAC play. Leftwich was cut following the final pre-season game last season by Coach Jack Del Rio of Jacksonville, who went with QB David Garrard, who also played at East Carolina of C-USA.
Leftwich joined the Atlanta Falcons late last season, appearing in only three games. He has proved himself as a backup but is dogged by injuries. It's the first opportunity for both players this pre-season. Batch figures to miss at least a month, maybe up to two months, while his collarbone mends. The Steelers' first regular-season game is Sept. 7 against the Houston Texans. They have three exhibitions left, including Thursday at Buffalo.
Leftwich was sixth in the Heisman Trophy voting in 2002, despite the screw in his leg and playing with incredible pain throughout his senior season. He was at his best in bowls for Marshall, beating Louisville 38-14 in the 2002 GMAC Bowl in Mobile, Alabama, with four passing touchdowns. He was even better in the 2001 GMAC Bowl, leading the Herd back from a 38-8 halftime hole to win the highest scoring bowl in NCAA history, 64-61, in two overtimes with 576 passing yards and five touchdowns.
An All-American in both season, Leftwich set MAC records in completions (939), passing yards (11,903), touchdowns (89) and total offense (12,084), all of which are second only to Pennington at Marshall. He threw for all these yards and completions with only 28 interceptions in 1,442 attempts, and is Marshall's all-time leading in completion percentage at 65.1 percent for his career. He led the Herd to three consecutive bowl wins, including beating Cincinnati in the 2000 Motor City Bowls, won two MAC titles (2000 and 2002) in three trips to the title game and won 30 games in three seasons, including back-to-back 11-2 seasons as a junior and senior.
Leftwich, who will join former Marshall center Doug Legursky on the Steelers - a rookie lineman who played for MU from 2004-07 - led the Herd to a record of 22-5 versus MAC opponents in the regular season from 2000-2002, and 24-6 overall including three consecutive MAC title games. He was a three-time captain of the Herd. Losses for MU under Leftwich included at Michigan State (24-34) and at North Carolina (15-20) in 2000; at No. 1 Florida (14-49) in 2001 and at No. 7 Virginia Tech (21-47) in 2002. Marshall lost to Toledo, Western Michigan and Ohio in 2000, but only to Toledo in the MAC championship in 2001 and at Akron (when Leftwich was hurt) in 2002 in Mid-American Conference play. Leftwich did not suffer a loss to Roethlisberger's Miami RedHawks while at Marshall, but it would appear the Steeler starter will keep his, and Leftwich's, No. 7 for a jersey number.
Contributing to this story: The Sporting News.com and ProFootballTalk.com