Inside Slant

Rookie Byron Leftwich got a crash course this spring in learning how to play quarterback in the NFL. He's eager to get to it and his first priority to to beat out back up quaterback David Garrard.

Rookie Byron Leftwich got a crash course this spring in learning how to play quarterback in the NFL.

"My head's spinning a little less now than it was," Leftwich said after the team's final passing camp last month. "I know what's going on now. You're at the point where you're not thinking so much. You're just going out and reacting."

Leftwich, who won't take the field again until July 25th when the Jaguars start training camp, also is getting a crash course on some of the perks he gets for being a high pick in the NFL draft as a quarterback.

He was at the Disney/MGM Studios in Orlando, Fla. recently filming a new ESPN commercial. Leftwich told the Orlando Sentinel that even though he knows veteran Mark Brunell is the veteran starter, he's eager to play as soon as possible.

"You have to prepare yourself as if you're the starter," he said. "That's why I'm trying to learn everything I can right away. This is such a great opportunity, and I want to make sure I'm successful."

He added, "How could you not be excited about something like this? Coach said every position is open, so I just want to come in and compete. Right now, I'm just trying to learn everything I can. And I'm having a blast."

Of course, the quarterback job isn't really open. Barring an injury, Brunell will start what is expected to be his last season in Jacksonville. Leftwich's first job will be to beat out David Garrard for the backup job and he got a leg up when Garrard was slowed by a hamstring injury in passing camp.

But even though Brunell will start the season, there's no guarantee he will finish it. A little history is in order. In 1992, when the Bengals made David Klingler the sixth pick in the NFL draft, Boomer Esiason was the starter at age 31 and had taken the Bengals to the Super Bowl after the 1988 season.

Brunell will turn 33 in September and he took the team to the AFC title game in 1999. When the Bengals started out 4-7 in 1992, Esiason was benched and Klingler was handed the job. Esiason was traded to the Jets the next year. It turned out Klingler was a bust and Esiason had several productive years left and even wound up returning to Cincinnati.

But the bottom line is that when the team was out of the playoff race, the Bengals decided to look at the rookie drafted high on the first round. Although coach David Shula made the decision, the team's quarterback coach was Ken Anderson. He is now the Jaguars' quarterback coach.

The challenge for Brunell is to play well enough and win enough games to keep Leftwich on the bench this season. Leftwich will be ready if called on.

"I guess I'm not a real patient guy, I want to contribute right away. I want to be ready," he said.

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