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

NASHVILLE — It was only one night. It was only one play.

Repeat that to yourself. After all, the Tampa Bay Bucs are miles from deciding who their starting quarterback is going to be, or even if they have one on the roster.

After Saturday night, however, the rest of the field is chasing Byron Leftwich.

Leftwich showed a little more danger, a little more flair, in the Bucs' preseason opener against the Tennessee Titans. He had a little more electricity, and a little more success. And around him, his team seemed to have just a little more confidence, and just a few more possibilities, than when someone else was steering the ship.

No, it wasn't enough to guarantee that he will start when the regular season does, but score Round 1 for Leftwich.

As of today, he is your leader in the clubhouse.

Assuming, of course, he doesn't get broken by enemy defensive linemen along the way.

To be honest, Leftwich wasn't good enough to be mistaken for a Manning against the Titans. He hit only six of his 14 passes, which was only marginally better than Luke McCown, the starter, who hit 4-of-8. Frankly, there will probably be more chatter about No. 4 quarterback Josh Johnson and his 43-yard touchdown run than either Leftwich or McCown.

If you are grading the quarterbacks who have a shot to start against Dallas, however, the Bucs' offense had a more potent feel to it when Leftwich was behind center. Somehow, the end zone didn't seem as far away.

Where McCown nibbled, Leftwich tried to devour. Where McCown sipped, Leftwich tried to chug. Where McCown was content to be safe, Leftwich attempted to go for the throat.

Maybe coverages had something to do with that, but it should be enough to alter the depth chart. Shouldn't it?

Consider: On nine passing plays — eight throws and a sack — McCown had a total of 11 yards. Only once did one of his throws go as deep as the first-down marker, a 5-yard pass to Cortez Hankton on third-and-3. And his offense never crossed midfield.

"He struggled a little,'' Bucs coach Raheem Morris said.

By comparison, Leftwich netted 44 yards on his 15 pass plays, 14 throws and a sack. He hit two 7-yard passes, two 8-yarders.

Ah, but the play everyone will be talking about was his second throw of the game, when he dropped back and found Brian Clark in the left side of the end zone for a 24-yard touchdown.

"I do like that we had some big plays,'' Leftwich said. "That's what you need in this game. When the defense makes mistakes, I want to make them pay.

"I'm a guy who will go for it. I'm always aggressive. Be smart, don't be reckless, but I want to give my guys a chance to make plays downfield.''

To sum up: Going for it is better than settling for it. Stretching the field is better than hugging the sidelines. And touchdowns are better than check downs.

After Lap 1, Leftwich is better than McCown.

Of course, everyone should add, "So far." Morris is going to need more than McCown's first quarter and Leftwich's second one.

When you think about it, however, wouldn't you expect Leftwich to have an edge?

After all, Leftwich has started 46 games in the NFL (although only two since 2006). McCown has started seven (although only three since 2004).

Say this for the quarterbacks. They seem to realize the competition isn't over. Morris, too.

"Byron did a little better,'' Morris said. "But it's too early to say (if the depth chart has been altered)."

Say this much for McCown. He is much more mobile in the pocket than Leftwich. He ran twice for 13 yards and a first down. But, yes, he needs to make more plays, and he needs to be more willing to turn it loose when he has a chance.

"Some of that was because of coverages,'' McCown said. "I had two opportunities to go deep, and one of those was on third-and-12.''

Say this much for Leftwich. He's a tough guy, isn't he? He took a couple of shots from Titans linemen that are going to make the next three generations of Leftwiches walk with a limp. If this keeps up, he's going to need Kevlar.

Those two shots, however, reminded you that the Bucs are probably going to need both quarterbacks — and maybe Josh Freeman — before this season is out.

And say this much for the youngsters. Johnson runs fast enough to make you wonder about the ways the Bucs could use him. And No. 1 draft pick Freeman, despite an interception returned for a touchdown, threw enough good balls to work his way into the conversation.

For now, the line starts behind Leftwich.

Byron Leftwich takes lead in the Tampa Bay Buccaneers' quarterback derby 08/15/09 [Last modified: Sunday, August 16, 2009 8:42am]
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