Prospect(s) of the Week: Byron Leftwich/Ben Roethlisberger
Leftwich, who left the November 2nd game against Akron with a leg injury, is "iffy" as of posting and there's no promise he will start. The x-ray results on the nation's passing leader were negative and there's hope he'll play in this critical game. Only five yards short of 3000 through the air, Leftwich's averaged 375-yards in eight games with 19 scoring tosses this season. For his part Roethlisberger, who has only a fraction of the weapons at his disposal as does Leftwich, is two hundred yards behind his Marshall counterpart with one less touchdown pass. Each is hovering around the 65% completion rate and both are productive collegians and big time pro-prospects.
The changeover from Pennington to Leftwich behind center was seamless for the Marshall program as the big armed passer put up astounding numbers his first year as a starter totaling 3,358 passing yards and 21 touchdowns through the air while tossing only nine interceptions during the 2000 season. Leftwich threw for more than 300 yards in a game four times, including a MAC Championship game record 358 yards, which earned him the games Most Valuable Player. As if that were not enough, he topped those numbers in 2001 putting together the best single-season for a quarterback in Mid-American Conference history. For his efforts, Leftwich was named the MAC Offensive Player of the Year, breaking league records for total offense (4,224), total touchdowns (41), passing attempts (470-tied), completions (315), and passing yards (4,132). He fell short of two other single season passing records for the league, touchdown passes (39 by Chad Pennington in ‘97) and completion percentage (also set by Pennington with 67.9% in ‘99).
An athletic pocket passer with tremendous physical skills Leftwich sets up with solid footwork, displays patience and looks away from the primary target, throwing to his secondary receivers. Quick releasing the ball, he throws with an over the top delivery and zips the outs or leads receivers down the field on long throws, driving his deep passes with speed. Withstanding the rush, Leftwich is poised and buys time for his receivers, waiting till the last second before getting rid of the ball. He easily gets outside the pocket, making throws on the move and loses nothing on his tosses. Leftwich makes all the throws and spreads the ball around to all his receivers.
For his part Roethlisberger shows every sign of being a great quarterback prospect for the next level and is making his mark in college. After red-shirting in 2000 he stepped behind center with a vengeance last season ranking second in the conference (to Leftwich of course) for passing yards per game (258.8), total offense per game (274.5), pass efficiency (146.5) and touchdowns (25) while also setting Redhawk single-season records for passing yards (3,105), completions (241), touchdown passes, completion percentage (.663) and total offense (3,294). All those numbers garnered him Freshman All-America honors and Roethlisberger was named MAC Freshman of the Year.
Likewise Roethlisberger is a big-armed pocket passer with the abilities to make plays in or out of the pocket. Poised under pressure, he looks off the safety taking what the defense gives him and possesses a terrific pump fake, which has opponents in the secondary biting on the first sign of a release. Roethlisberger drives his long passes down the field, smartly placing the deep throws in front of targets and letting receivers run to the ball. He is complete control of the offense in every sense of the word; a true leader that makes good decisions and does not put his team in a bad spot. Above all he is a class guy.
That does not mean Leftwich nor Roethlisberger are without fault; the Redhawk signal caller needs to fine tune his release and tightness of the spirals while the Herd's Leftwich must quicken the release of his timing passes as receivers are usually waiting on the ball as they come out of their breaks.
Depending on who owns the first pick of the draft, Leftwich won't have to wait long before hearing his name called next April. Roethlisberger, who'll more than likely stay in college, is highly ranked now and could very well be the number one quarterbacking prospect going into the 2003 season, depending on the decision of Eli Mannig. This should be a classic battle, let's hope Leftwich is able to play. Its' just to bad it'll only be a one time deal!