Leftwich: 'I've always believed in my ability'
As a backup for the Pittsburgh Steelers, quarterback Byron Leftwich had to make quick reads.
Was starter Ben Roethlisberger hurt enough for him to grab his helmet and possibly start warming up?
"I’d look and see how he was doing, if I had to play, tell our rookie, Dennis Dixon, to get my helmet,'' Leftwich said, remembering the times someone cleaned Big Ben's clock. "I had a few false alarms. By the time he got back, I didn’t usually need it.''
Quarterback Byron Leftwich of the Pittsburgh Steelers during a game against the New York Giants at Heinz Field on October 26, 2008 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. (Photo by: Rick Stewart/Getty Images)
Leftwich doesn't plan on standing on the sidelines next season after signing a two-year, $7.5-million contract with the Bucs earlier this week. He has been told he will be given the chance to compete for the starting job with Luke McCown, Brian Griese and Josh Johnson.
Leftwich, 29, wouldn't want it any other way.
"I was told from day one they want me to come in and compete and that's the only way you want it,'' Leftwich told the Times. "You don't want anything given to you. Once you have an opportunity to compete, I can live with any scenario at that point. It's all I can ask for. You want to go out there and know you've earned it.
"This is a great opportunity to be involved with a good organization and a good football team. From my standpoint, to play with guys like Antonio Bryant, K2 (Kellen Winslow, Jr.), Earnest Graham, Jerramy Stevens -- these type of guys -- as a quarterback, it makes your job a whole lot easier. The situation is perfect for me and I thought it would be a great opportunity.''
Leftwich has spent the past week working out at One Buc Place, looking for a place to live in the Tampa Bay area and trying to feel more at home in the new offense under Jeff Jagodzinski.
"Right now, I'm over there working out with the guys, getting to know the guys and getting to know the system,'' Leftwich said. "They have a little head start on me, so I'm trying to learn as quickly as I can because I don't know the OTA's are coming up and I want to be ready when they come.''
Injuries plagued Leftwich's career as a four-year starter at Jacksonville, where the former first-round pick from Marshall eventually was released after losing his job to David Garrard.
"The quickest way for people to forget you is through injury,'' Leftwich said. "Anytime you're not out there, it can easily be questioned. Hopefully, now that I'm healthy and I will be on a good football team with players around me, it comes down to just playing. And I've always believed in my ability.''
But Leftwich had to be patient. He spent one forgettable season in Atlanta during the post-Michael Vick fiasco ("I give myself a mulligan for that year,'' he says) before landing a job as a backup for the eventual Super Bowl champion Steelers.
Leftwich played well in relief of Roethlisberger, appearing in five games. He completed 21-of-36 passes for 303 yards with two touchdowns and no interceptions for a 104.3 passer rating.
"It's the most fun I've ever had playing the game of football,'' Leftwich said. "Understanding what it takes to win a Super Bowl. I've seen and I know I'll know when we have a chance to win a Super Bowl and what it's like to be part of a Super Bowl-winning team. I've got to see things I've never seen before because I've never been on that good of a football team. I think I've gained so much, that I matured as a quarterback and as a player. I've gotten better and I have a better understanding of that.''
A free agent since February, Leftwich didn't receive much interest until the Washington Redskins invited him to throw two weeks ago. The Steelers also wanted him to return as a backup. But the chance to compete for a starting job is what prompted him to eventually sign with the Bucs.
What Leftwich has learned is that any quarterback is only as good as the players around him and he's excited about the cast the Bucs have assembled on offense.
"That's the whole thing,'' Leftwich said. "To go out there and see Heath Miller at tight end and Santonio Holmes on one side and Hines Ward or Nate Washington on the other and Willie Parker in the backfield, you realize you can't do this by yourself. It doesn't make your job easy, but it makes your job easier. I don't have to do it on my own. There are guys around you who have done great things in this league. That's why you've got to like the opportunity to play with a football team of this caliber. There's not a lot of teams that have the weapons this team has. It's an exciting time.''