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Tampa Bay Buccaneers rookie quarterback Josh Freeman may benefit from choice of Byron Leftwich to start

New starting QB Byron Leftwich, working with Josh Johnson, center, and Josh Freeman during training camp, says he’s impressed with the rookie Freeman and is eager to mentor him.


New starting QB Byron Leftwich, working with Josh Johnson, center, and Josh Freeman during training camp, says he’s impressed with the rookie Freeman and is eager to mentor him.

TAMPA — Starting today, he is the quarterback. Starting today, the offense belongs to him.

Starting today, the conversation about Byron Leftwich is going to get louder.

In the most uninspiring quarterback battle ever, and in the most unconvincing way possible, Leftwich has won the Bucs' starting job. As competitions go, this was a pillow fight in which not enough feathers flew and not enough points were produced. Leftwich won in the end, but not without a measurement.

As far as today, who knows what that means?

As far as tomorrow, it is probably a good thing.

Let's face it: No matter who starts for the Bucs, the most important quarterback on the roster is still rookie Josh Freeman, heir to the empire. The other guys — Leftwich and silver medalist Luke McCown — were merely fighting for the right to keep the seat warm.

Look at this through the eyes of Freeman, and yes, this is probably the best decision that could have happened.

In the every-Jedi-needs-a-master kind of thinking, Leftwich can be good for Freeman's growth. Frankly, Leftwich used to be Freeman.

He has started, and he has been benched. He has been battered, booed and bruised. He has seen a city hail his arrival, and he has seen it cheer his departure. If Freeman pays attention, there are lessons to be learned.

"If you're a starter in this league, they're going to put you in that blender at some point," Leftwich said, "and they're going to hit 'liquefy.' You've got to be able to take it, observe and not lose confidence in yourself. You still have to have the determination, the mind-set and the ability to play the next time you get out there.

"I'm going to help the kid out, because I like the kid. The kid is so willing to learn, so willing to get better. It's good to see guys come into the league like that and just learn and get better."

By this time, perhaps the most optimistic of fans would have hoped it would have been Freeman, not Leftwich, who was appointed the starting quarterback. That was never the Bucs' plan, however. Let Detroit and New York throw their rookies into the fire; the Bucs preferred to wait.

Even coach Raheem Morris admitted Saturday that he "kind of held Freeman back a little" during training camp. To win the job, Freeman would have had to leave them with no other choice.

Leftwich knows the feeling. Like Freeman, he was a No. 1 draft pick. Like Freeman, he was the quarterback of the future.

"I've been through it all." Leftwich said. "12-4 seasons, 5-11 seasons. I've been booed, I've been called the greatest thing since sliced bread; I've been called a lot of bad things. It comes with playing the position. You talk to the guys in this league. It doesn't matter how many Pro Bowls you've been to, it happens. You have to be ready."

Give Leftwich credit for this much. He knows the job is a temp position.

Oh, McCown would have helped Freeman along, too. But McCown was a fourth-round pick who was never promised anything, and he has never been the quarterback under the fans' microscope. He hasn't experienced some of the things Freeman will encounter.

"You're talking about a guy (Leftwich) who was the seventh pick in the draft," Morris said. "A guy who had some success, a guy who had some failure. A guy who bounced around, a guy who found a new home and is a starting quarterback. That's a great mentor to follow. And there are some things not to follow, too."

Here's the question, though: How closely does Freeman follow?

Recent history tells us that quarterbacks of the future get a taste of starting sometime their rookie year. Could we see Freeman in December? Could it be as early as Game 8 (the Bucs have a bye in Week 7)? How many quarterback changes might happen beforehand?

"I was in that same situation, a first-round draft pick, wanting to play, anxious to play, knowing that one day, you're going to get the keys," Leftwich said. "I'm just going to try to make sure they don't hand him the keys this year.

"As a veteran guy in this league, as a quarterback, it's almost my duty to do the things for him that guys like Steve McNair and Donovan McNabb did for me when I was a young kid. As a player, you want to see the guys who come up behind you do great things."

Sooner or later, today will have to give way to tomorrow.

When it does? Leftwich thinks you're going to like what you see.

"I think he has a chance to be very good," Leftwich says of Freeman. "I really do. He's got everything you want. You watch the film, he's throwing balls with guys just hanging on him.

"He's a huge guy, man. The more I look at him … I don't want to compare him to Ben (Roethlisberger), but he shakes tackles like Ben. I call Ben 'Houdini.' I've never seen anyone get out of the stuff that Ben gets out of. You see Freeman as a rookie do some of those things. I think he has a bright future."

Starting today, however, the job belongs to Leftwich. If experience teaches a man nothing else, it is this:

Hang on to all the daylight you can, Byron.

Tomorrow is looking over your shoulder.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers rookie quarterback Josh Freeman may benefit from choice of Byron Leftwich to start 08/29/09 [Last modified: Sunday, August 30, 2009 7:41am]
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