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Byron Leftwich takes early lead in Tampa Bay Buccaneers' quarterback derby

Byron Leftwich, battling Luke McCown for the starting quarterback job, made more plays during camp’s first week.

DANIEL WALLACE | Times

Byron Leftwich, battling Luke McCown for the starting quarterback job, made more plays during camp’s first week.

TAMPA — You probably can't win a starting quarterback job during the first week of practice, but you can lose one.

So as we examine the race between Luke McCown and Byron Leftwich — sorry, Josh Freeman, your time will come soon — understand that both avoided catastrophe.

But Leftwich was better. He made more plays, got the ball in the end zone more consistently and basically converted more believers in the locker room.

Still, it's too soon to order a No. 7 jersey.

"I just think those guys are playing really well right now, and I don't think I can judge either one of them until we get some pads on them and let them go get hit," coach Raheem Morris said.

There's a reason Bucs quarterbacks wear neon yellow jerseys in practice: to remind the defense not to put them on the deck.

In that environment, Leftwich's limited mobility and long delivery won't be an issue.

"As we get further into camp and into the preseason, it becomes not necessarily what goes on in practice, but getting ready for what goes on in the game," McCown said. "And that's where the competition will be.

"And whoever moves the ball down the field the best and puts points on the board is the guy who's going to play."

McCown is smart, a great athlete and can make plays with his feet as well as his arm. But he entered camp knowing he had to make better decisions. Perhaps consequently, he hasn't made as many plays as Leftwich.

"The thing that makes Byron look really good is that he can be having a bad practice, but he can spin one out there, and you just go, 'Whoa. That was a good practice,' " Morris said.

"You can get a misconception from that, and that's okay because that could be a game. He can be having a bad game and spin one down there, and you go, 'Whoa, Byron played his butt off today.' Those things happen, too. We've generated some big plays on offense, and that's kind of been a big-time theme around here."

There are a few other reasons why Leftwich has thrived.

He's facing mostly man-to-man coverage, and Bucs defensive backs aren't accustomed to seeing such a strong arm. (Jeff Garcia didn't roll out and flick the ball 65 yards).

Leftwich always had an advantage over McCown in experience (54 games to 12) and pedigree (2003 first-round pick to 2004 fourth-rounder). So McCown needs to do something dynamic in practice and the games to win the job. But Week 1 went to Lefty.

Going long: Anyone familiar with the Tampa 2 defense knows it limited big plays. But with players getting familiar with the scheme of new defensive coordinator Jim Bates, the secondary yielded an alarming number of deep passes.

Second-year pro Elbert Mack had three interceptions, but Morris said the secondary needs to step up.

"Elbert Mack did (touch the ball). Ronde Barber touched a couple," he said. "We need Aqib Talib to touch the ball. We need him to be the catalyst. We need Tanard Jackson and Sabby Piscitelli to touch the ball. Tanard got his hands on one the other day.

"We've had way too many big plays from a DBs standpoint. … We're going to be defined by how many times we touch the ball."

Rick Stroud can be reached at stroud @sptimes.com.

Byron Leftwich takes early lead in Tampa Bay Buccaneers' quarterback derby 08/08/09 [Last modified: Sunday, August 9, 2009 8:26am]

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