Make us your home page

Get the quickest, smartest news, analysis and photos from the Bucs game emailed to you shortly after the final whistle.

(View our Privacy Policy)

Tampa Bay Buccaneers' quarterback derby has already begun

Luke McCown has started seven games in five seasons and appeared in two in 2008.


Luke McCown has started seven games in five seasons and appeared in two in 2008.

TAMPA — Byron Leftwich walked to the line of scrimmage during a red zone drill one day last week and surveyed the defense.

Barking out the cadence, he took a short drop, looked quickly to his left and launched a perfectly thrown spiral to the left corner of the end zone, where Kelly Campbell made the catch while sliding past the pylon for a touchdown.

It was just another play in the middle of summer that is duplicated throughout 32 NFL cities every day.

But the Bucs' offensive players and coaches erupted, chest-bumping Leftwich, Campbell and coach Raheem Morris. At any minute, you expected to see confetti, a podium and the Lombardi Trophy.

No game was won or lost. But you definitely got the feeling Leftwich is going to make a serious challenge for the starting quarterback job against Luke McCown.

"It's just like a basketball player," Morris said. "Any time you hit that first 3, the rest of your practice can go pretty well. Byron had a good day. But Luke has had his days here, too."

During the practice, both McCown and Leftwich made their share of plays. Each fired touchdowns to tight end Jerramy Stevens. McCown hit tight end Kellen Winslow on a 30-yard fade route over safety Sabby Piscitelli in man-to-man coverage.

Leftwich even connected with Dexter Jackson for a leaping reception, threading the ball between two defenders.

"We're charting it. We're looking at it, and it's tight. It's exactly what we said we wanted," Morris said. "We wanted competition, and we've got it. If they're going to (create) tough decisions for us, that's great. I don't want anybody to give it to them. I don't want anybody to win by default.

"I want it to be a guy where we all jump on his back and say, 'That's our guy. Let's go with him.' "

So what will decide it?

Obviously, performance in practice and the first two preseason games. Leftwich, 29, owns a huge advantage in terms of experience with 49 career starts. He played well in five games with the Super Bowl champion Steelers last season, completing 21 of 36 passes for 303 yards, two touchdowns, no interceptions and a 104.3 rating. He also rushed for a touchdown.

McCown, 27, has played in just 12 games over five seasons, going 1-6 as a starter with four starts coming during his rookie season in Cleveland.

Last season, he attempted one pass during brief appearances in two games.

What Leftwich has to overcome is his lack of mobility, which prompted the Jaguars to replace him as the starter with David Garrard just before the start of the 2007 season. Playing behind a solid line with a run-first offense could help that.

What McCown has to overcome is his relative lack of game experience. He can't match Leftwich's resume, so he has to be more consistent, eliminate mistakes and make more plays.

I think what decides it is belief. Which quarterback does the team respond to?

Leftwich might have an advantage in the huddle and locker room. McCown needs to improve his assertiveness, and he knows it. When you're following somebody out of the woods, you tend to walk behind the guy who doesn't need to look at his compass.

It's just a feeling you get when you see how the team responds to Leftwich. But it's May.

And let's be clear about this: All three quarterbacks, including first-round draft pick Josh Freeman, will play this season. The starter in Week 1 could be replaced by the bye (Week 8). The backup will likely give way to Freeman.

"All anybody can ask for on this football team is that if I go out here and I play well and if I'm playing better than anybody else, will I have the opportunity to be the guy," Leftwich said. "The toughest thing in the world is being in a situation where no matter what you do, you know you won't have a chance to get out on the field."

The battle to start is between McCown and Leftwich. Second-year pro Josh Johnson will get a shot, too. But barring an injury, the selection of Freeman hurts his chances.

"All I know is that it's a nice fight," Morris said.

Rick Stroud can be reached at

Tampa Bay Buccaneers' quarterback derby has already begun 05/30/09 [Last modified: Sunday, May 31, 2009 8:10am]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times


Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

  1. Competition and uncertainty keep New Port Richey's Steve Miklos hooked on power boat racing


    HOLIDAY — If Steve Miklos could have it his way, every power boat race would take place in rough water. He finds the turbulent conditions calming, an attitude he's developed during a professional power boat racing career that spans hundreds of races dating back to 1991.

    Steve Miklos, the throttle man and owner of the No. 51 Sun Print Racing boat, poses at his shop in Holiday. [CHRIS URSO   |   Times]
  2. Did a Cubs player give Trump the middle finger during a White House visit?


    President Donald Trump welcomed former Rays manager Joe Maddon and the World Series champion Chicago Cubs into the Oval Office. But it was a photo that surfaced later that got much of the attention on …

    President Donald Trump welcomed former Rays manager Joe Maddon and the World Series champion Chicago Cubs into the Oval Office. But it was a photo that surfaced later that got much of the attention on social media.
The photo, taken by Lynn Sweet of the Chicago Sun-Times, purportedly shows outfielder Albert Almora Jr. flipping a bird while standing just feet from Trump as the other players were gathered around his desk. [Gordon Wittenmyer via Twitter]
  3. Jeff Vinik contributing $6 million to fund Lightning's practice facility upgrade


    Lightning owner Jeff Vinik will invest $6 million in upgrading the team's practice facility, the Ice Sports Forum in Brandon.

    The plan will create a brand new locker room and training facilities for the team, an 18,000 square foot addition.
  4. Buccaneers defense was among NFL's best when its pressure got to the QB


    It doesn't matter how many times they've thrown a football. It doesn't matter how many seasons they've played. It doesn't matter whether they have a degree from Harvard or Central Florida.

    Bucs defensive tackle Gerald McCoy recorded 6.5 sacks last season, but many of his other contributions didn't show up in the box scores. [ANDRES LEIVA   |   Times]

  5. Rays DFA Danny Farquhar to make room for Brad Boxberger


    The Rays continued shuffling their bullpen, dumping RHP Danny Farquhar after Wednesday's game to make room for RHP Brad Boxberger to be activated off the DL.

    Farquhar, who worked an inning in Wednesday's 6-2 loss, had a 2-2, 4.11 record for 37 appearances, working primarily in lower leverage situations. In …