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Can Byron Leftwich keep growing into his job as the Bucs’ play-caller?

Why the Bucs’ last eight games matter: They are a referendum on Bruce Arians’ faith in Leftwich.
Buccaneers offensive coordinator Byron Leftwich, left, oversees a unit that ranks fourth in the NFL in points per game. [MONICA HERNDON   |   TIMES  |  Tampa Bay Times]
Buccaneers offensive coordinator Byron Leftwich, left, oversees a unit that ranks fourth in the NFL in points per game. [MONICA HERNDON | TIMES | Tampa Bay Times]
Published Nov. 9, 2019
Updated Nov. 9, 2019

TAMPA — During the Bucs-Seahawks game last Sunday, coach Bruce Arians and offensive coordinator Byron Leftwich got into an animated discussion with 1:08 remaining.

“That was me and him being me and him,” Leftwich said smiling.

Arians apparently didn’t like a critical third-down call, but the Bucs converted when Jameis Winston changed the play and running back Ronald Jones ran for a first down. The Bucs would go on to score the tying touchdown before losing 40-34 in overtime.

There’s no disagreement right now about whether Leftwich should continue calling plays. But the second half of the season will in some ways be a referendum on whether Leftwich is the right guy for the job.

At 39, Leftwich is as young as some quarterbacks still playing in the NFL. The former Jaguars first-round pick has a relationship with Arians dating to their Steelers days. Arians insisted that Leftwich sees the game the way he does and jumped at the chance to hire him as the quarterbacks coach with the Cardinals a few years ago.

But this is the first year that Leftwich has called plays for Arians. He did it for eight games last season after the Cardinals fired offensive coordinator Mike McCoy.

Arians admits he had to do a sales job on the Glazer family when he told them he would not be calling plays. This is the biggest year for Winston. But Leftwich knew the faith Arians had in him.

“Me and B.A. have been doing this together for a long time now,” Leftwich said. “You guys just get an opportunity to see me do it. It’s always been a lot of behind the scenes stuff that nobody knew of.”

There have been missteps. Leftwich hasn’t gotten the tight ends involved. O.J. Howard has 18 targets in six games and Cameron Brate has disappeared. He keeps force-feeding the football to the Bucs third receiver, Breshad Perriman. It took eight weeks to promote Jones to starting running back.

However, the Bucs are averaging 28.8 points, which ranks fourth in the NFL.

Leftwich says you can expect more sideline spats with Arians.

“That’s all I know (and) that’s all I’ll ever be,’’ Leftwich said. “I have no reason to not have that with anybody that’s a part of this organization or anybody that’s outside of this organization. That’s how I tend to carry myself on and off the field, so that’s actually the easy part, especially for me and him. That’s extremely easy for us two.”

Contact Rick Stroud at rstroud@tampabay.com

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