By the time tonight's preseason game against the Jaguars is over, the Bucs should be well on their way to deciding the winner of a quarterback derby that has been ongoing since the spring.
Either newcomer Byron Leftwich, tonight's starter at Jacksonville, or Luke McCown, a longtime Bucs backup, is expected to be named the starter next week.
The extended competition has given new coach Raheem Morris plenty of time for evaluation. "I've been around them that much more," Morris said, "so you get that much more comfortable from day to day watching them go through the process of growing, whether it's ups, downs, highs (or) lows."
How does each quarterback assess his development? And what does he think he must do tonight to earn the starting job?
Leftwich, 29, the apparent leader, came to Tampa Bay as a free agent in the offseason with the reputation as more of a journeyman than the 2003 first-round draft pick he was. But he believes he has found at least a temporary home. If Leftwich plays mostly mistake-free tonight, McCown would seem to face a hard time overtaking him.
"I'm quite sure they wanted to bring me in and put me in certain situations and see how I react," Leftwich said. "For me, it was (about) making plays for this team. That's all I tried to do.
"The process has been smooth so far."
Leftwich, always a cool character, said he won't feel any nerves tonight despite the stakes or his return to Jacksonville, where he began his career before being dumped when the Jaguars gave the starting job to David Garrard midway through the 2006 season. He has been part of games at Jacksonville before, while he was with the Falcons and Steelers the past two seasons.
Leftwich has never spoken presumptuously about his chances of winning the starting job, but he talks like a starter.
"It's exciting to be part of this football team and being a part of what I think we can do on the offensive side of the ball," he said. "I think we have a chance to be a very good football team, and that's what got me excited."
McCown's burden this preseason was to change opinions and influence people — namely his coaches — to see him as a starter even though he's entering his fifth season in Tampa Bay. How has he tried to accomplish that?
"It's been my attention to detail, my ability to retain things we just installed, and I think they've seen my command of the offense," said McCown, 28. "Even being a new offense, I think they've seen my ability to walk up to the line and know exactly what's going on."
Whether any of that showed against Tennessee last week, when McCown wasn't sharp, is debatable. The Bucs did not score, nor did they reach Tennessee territory for the quarter McCown was in the game.
So he has his work cut out for him, especially considering Morris and his staff have stressed that game performance will be weighed more heavily than practice reps.
"I just want to go out and play efficiently, play in rhythm, establish a good tempo with the team and move the ball down the field," McCown said. "We have to put points on the board. I felt like we had the game plan the first quarter last week to come out fast, and we just didn't. We had a few errors early, and we didn't start the way we wanted to. So I'm looking forward to getting another chance to get out there, start a little faster and sustain some things."
Tonight, each quarterback will scratch and claw in his last chance to campaign for the job.
"They both have played well in different situations, in different spells," Morris said. "I just think you need to get them in the game and let them finish it out.
"They're all locked in, detailed. That's the thing that makes those guys special. That's the thing that makes those guys want to be really good, really great. We've just got to go see which one is going to be the leader of Buccaneer nation."
Jaguars injuries: Coach Jack Del Rio expects about 10 players to miss tonight's game.
He declined to list his injured players — teams aren't required to in the preseason — but defensive back Don Carey (shoulder), cornerback Derek Cox (groin), defensive tackle Jonathan Lewis (ankle), tight end Zach Miller (knee), fullback Montell Owens (knee) and receivers Mike Thomas (hamstring) and Mike Walker (ankle) haven't practiced all week.
Linebacker Justin Durant (hip flexor), running back Rashad Jennings (groin), guard Vince Manuwai (knee), linebacker Tim Shaw (groin) and cornerback Scott Starks (hamstring) have missed recent workouts because of injuries as well.
Information from Times wires was used in this report. Stephen F. Holder can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.