Leftwich Comeback

J.P. Losman, Sage Rosenfels, Jim Sorgi. What do they have in common? They are all back-up quarterbacks that have suited up this season against the Jaguars, and nobody really cares. But when the Steelers come to town this week, the mere presence of their backup will incite the Jaguars fanbase one way or the other. He, of course, is Byron Leftwich.

Jaguars fans know the story of Byron Leftwich, how he was Jack Del Rio's first draft pick in 2003, and was the starting quarterback from early in his rookie season up until the end of the 2007 preseason, when he was released in favor of David Garrard. The move to release Leftwich seemingly came out of nowhere, being that he was named the team's starting quarterback.

"Nothing surprises me in this game," said Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin. "I wasn't down there and a part of it. I assume they felt like they were making the decisions that were best for them. I really didn't think about it much at the time."

Leftwich was a lightning rod for criticism in Jacksonville, and six out of ten Jaguars fans will probably tell you he was the worst quarterback they had ever seen.

The truth that a lot of Jaguars fans don't want to admit is that Leftwich wasn't that bad. In fact, he was a better than average starting quarterback with a winning record. The main problem he had was that he couldn't stay healthy. From 2004-2006, Leftwich was never able to complete an entire season and although he was a talented passer, he wasn't a guy that you could count on for an entire season.

Following Byron's release last September, he signed a two-year deal with the Atlanta Falcons, and played in just three games before going down with an ankle injury. Although Leftwich was solid, he couldn't be counted on and that led to his offseason release. After spending the spring and summer looking for a job, Leftwich landed in Pittsburgh following a shoulder injury to longtime backup quarterback Charlie Batch. Leftwich impressed the coaching staff in his limited preseason action, and earned the back-up job for the rest of this season.

"I was very pleased to know that he was available when we sustained the injury at the position in the preseason when Charlie Batch got hurt," Tomlin said. "We quickly moved to bring him in to work out and sign him. So that's what's important to me."

The role of back-up has been a new one to Leftwich, as he has been a starting quarterback for most of his life. So far this season he has had very limited reps as he came into both the Houston and Philadelphia games late. Against the Eagles, Leftwich marched an offense that couldn't move the ball down the field with relative ease. He completed 4 of 7 passes for 60 yards in his only series.

"He gets very few reps but he takes advantage of it and he has quickly developed a report with the receivers that he's working with," Tomlin said. "It's been very positive. I think it also helps that he has the background that he has in terms of being a franchise quarterback and being the guy and he knows what that entails and he kind of walks around with that kind of air about him but at the same time he's very humble."

Byron is trying to rebuild his career and he knows by the lack of interest in him this offseason that he must start as a back-up to eventually earn another shot as a starting NFL quarterback. His new head coach had nothing but complimentary things to say about him.

"Byron has been awesome," said Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin. "He's been a breath of fresh air. He's very professional. Of course he has an extremely strong arm. He's a quick study. He's a guy that can learn without physical reps and that's of course very important when you talk about a back-up quarterback."

There will likely be a lot of heckling from Jaguars fans when Leftwich warms up prior to Sunday night's game, and many believed that the team's failures during his tenure were directly attributed to him. The truth is that he did everything he could for the organization for four years, and now he's moving on. Jaguars fans need to do the same.

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