The Pittsburgh Steelers signed Doug Legursky as a free-agent in the spring of 2008, but cut him near the end of June. He was resigned on August 2 and joined the team the following day, driving through the Pennsylvania countryside in a thunderstorm that caused him to arrive at 2:30 a.m. Byron Leftwich came in for a tryout when 11-year back-up quarterback Charlie Batch broke his collarbone against the Philadelphia Eagles in the first pre-season practice. Leftwich beat out Donte Culpepper and signed with the Steelers on August 10, practiced Monday and Tuesday of that week then appeared against the Buffalo Bills in a pre-season game in Toronto last Thursday with two days practice.
Doug Legursky, a three-year starter at center while at Marshall, is trying to catch on at guard with the Pittsburgh Steelers. photo from HerdZone.com
Both Legursky and Leftwich was surprised to find the Marshall University media (also in attendance were Mike Powers of MU Communications and Adam Cavalier of WMUL) at practice, and for Legursky it was a double-dose, as his dad attended practice before heading to Toledo, Ohio on business, the only workout Wayne Legursky had been able to take in. While Doug's father is an unabashed supporter of his son's ability to help the team, the back-up guard and long-snapper candidate for the Steelers knows it is a different deal in pro football than anything he has faced before.
Doug Legursky (#64, far right) exits field near Pittsburgh QB Ben Roethlisberger (#7) at the first pre-season game for the Steelers. Legursky, a three-year starter at center at Marshall, is trying to latch on with Pittsburgh as a guard in his rookie season. Photo courtesy of Steelers.com
"You just work as hard as you can and not worry about anything else, or anybody else. You've got to work as hard as you can to try and make it," said Legursky, a two-time captain at Marshall out of Beckley, W.Va. and Woodrow Wilson High School. Asked how camp was going, with long snapping and playing guard, Legursky was quick to the point. "It's going. To tell the truth, they don't care too much about the long snapping around here, as long as I get it done on the offensive line."
The one thing is no matter how hard he works, Legursky knows the NFL is about many things besides hard work. "It's tough, it's a hard pill to swallow. It's something I've never been through, or exposed to, where you can play as hard as you can, as well as you can , and they still don't want you because it's a numbers game, or whatever. You just have to take it in stride and keep working hard, because there is nothing else you can do."
He was very excited when the Steelers added Leftwich last week, giving Pittsburgh two Marshall players at the same time for the first time in eight former members of the Herd playing in the "Steel City." "It's great," said Legursky of Leftwich joining the team, running with the second team together at times. "As soon as we got him signed, I was waiting around to talk to him a little bit. It's a great feeling to have another Marshall guy here. I went on the internet, and I don't usually go on there, just to see what the fans had to say. He had good support, here and from Marshall fans, so we'll see how it works out."
Byron Leftwich, shown against Buffalo in his first pre-season game with Pittsburgh, is looking forward to the Steelers third pre-season game this week with ten days to get ready. photo courtesy of steelers.com
Leftwich is glad to be anywhere, after being cut by the Jacksonville Jaguars after being a No. 1 pick, with the seventh selection, in 2003 and starting 2003-2006 for the Jags. He was cut after the final pre-season game in '07, signed later with the Atlanta Falcons for just three games and spent the off-season in limbo.
"I gave myself a mulligan last year," said the Washington, D.C. native. "The one thing about life is everything does not come easy, everything don't always happen for you and bad stuff just doesn't happen to bad people. Sometimes they happen to good people, too, and that's part of having adversity in your life. I'm just anxious to see how I pop out of this, be a part of this organization and help anyway I can."
Leftwich missed games as a junior and senior with leg injuries at Marshall, possibly even costing him a run at the Heisman Trophy, but returned to lead MU to the 2002 Mid-American Conference title and a huge win over Louisville in the GMAC Bowl. He didn't have much time to get ready for his first action with the Steelers, hitting 5-of-11 passes but having three drops by the back-ups at receiver, who stayed late and ran an extra 20 minutes of passing with the former Herd QB.
"I got out there and played with two days of preparation, and I thought I played as well as you can with two days of preparation. Some things, like I wish I could have that fumble back, but other than that it was good to be out there. Those guys helped me a lot. And, at the same time, the more I get to learn the offense the better I will get out there." Leftwich is used to battling pain, throughout his college and pro career, plus battling the expectations of following Chad Pennington, at Marshall; Mark Brunell at Jacksonville; and now filling in for Charlie Batch on Ben Roethlisberger's team in Pittsburgh.
"It's never been easy for me, you know that, Woody," said Leftwich. "Since day one, I haven't been given anything, I have had to earn everything I got and this is not a different situation. I have had some of the worst luck somebody could have in the last year and one-half, but I'm here right now. I have an opportunity to go out and play.
"Just going out and playing. I know when I am healthy, I can go out and play this game. That's all I try to worry about. Whatever they ask me to do, I go out and do what I can to help this team. That's the way it has always been. That's how I looked at it when I was the one, the two or laying in the training room."
Leftwich understands his former Miami-Ohio rival is the man in Pittsburgh, and Leftwich is with the Steelers to be a good team guy and possibly prove to the rest of the league he is still a NFL-quality quarterback. "We are in a situation where we all know, this is Ben's team. We all know who the guy is here. At the same time, I am here to help out. We had our battles in college, we had our battles early on in the NFL, but as the situation has worked out, I am here to help out and that's what I am going to do."
Steelers head coach Mike Tomblin, whose team fell in the first round of the playoffs last year to the Jags, was happy to see his former back-up and happy with the progress of the current No. 2 for the Steelers. "It was great to have Charlie Batch out here. He is a big part of our team, and it was great to see his smiling face, said Tomblin of Batch, who played at Eastern Michigan 1993-96. Byron also spoke with "Chuck," as he referred to Batch, and left the practice field with the former EMU Eagle.
Tomblin is very happy with what Leftwich gave the team on short notice last week. He also only has two rookies behind Roethlisberger in Mike Potts, of William and Mary, and Dennis Dixon, out of Oregon. He thinks Leftwich will continue to get more comfortable with more practice.
"I think he is having a very good week. It was a tall task we gave him last week in terms of getting prepared to play. We expect him to take another step this week, and I thought he did a solid job last week and will move on to bigger and better things next week." Leftwich, in a first-ever for him, wished he had one more week of camp to get ready. "I wish I could go through two-a-days another week. It's the first time in my career that I wanted camp to go longer, because I am trying to get as many reps as I can. These guys are not spoon-feeding me, they are not bringing me along slowly and see how I do in those situations. It's part of being in the NFL, and it is what it is and I am happy to have more time between games."
While Leftwich played at Marshall at about 240-pounds, his weight had gone up to around 250 last year at Jacksonville. While that is the listed weight for him on the official roster, Leftwich is lean, faster and probably closer to 230-235. As always, the quarterback was ready with an update but not a true weight, like his days at MU>
"I'm magazine-cover weight. I'll put it like that, magazine-cover weight with my shirt off. I'm just glad to be down." Leftwich was moving better than maybe since his sophomore year, when he opened the 2000 season with a long run against Southeast Missouri State in his first start. The highlight of yesterday's camp, however, was the cannon he still has for an arm as Leftwich and the offense, lined up at the 15-yard line, found receiver Nate Washington for an 85-yard touchdown on a ball that easily covered 80 yards from the big arm of the former Marshall rifleman.
Both Leftwich, who took MU to two MAC titles and three bowl wins in three years as a starter, and Legursky, who went to a bowl as a freshman then started the past three seasons of rebuilding in Conference USA under Mark Snyder, are looking for a return to form for the Herd in 2008. Leftwich was most direct. "They had better win more games than they have been winning," said Leftwich of the Herd in 2008. "I'll tell you that. Go out and just renew the Thundering Herd. We know how it used to be, but there is no reason to dwell on that past. It's our job as former players, former athletes at the University, to help in any way we can, and we try to do that. Hopefully, they get it turned around this year."
Legursky still is in touch with players like Brian Leggett and Matt Altobello, and thinks things are going well according to his former teammates. "I've talked to a few of them, the offensive line guys and a couple of my buddies there. They say their camp is going well, they are real excited about this year and hope they turn it around." Asked if he had any tips for the Herd in 2008, Legursky smiled and replied, "Just keep rocking, just keep rocking heads!"