Clock Is Ticking On Leftwich: Expectations Are High For The Jacksonville QB To Find Success On The Field

By Shannon Shelton
Updated: November 6, 2005

Byron Leftwich Photo Courtesy of Getty Images

JACKSONVILLE — The hands on Byron Leftwich’s NFL-quarterback growth clock are approaching the midnight hour.

When the alarm goes off, say, on Sept. 11 when the Jacksonville Jaguars open their 2005 season at home against Seattle, there will be little room for Leftwich to make the mistakes considered normal for a rookie or second-year quarterback. He will have crossed over to veteran territory, an area in which fans and coaching staffs expect near-flawless execution from their offensive leaders.

And with the team’s new offense and a beefed-up receiving corps, Leftwich should have all the tools he needs for a breakout season this fall. Whether through media questions or directions from his coaches, Leftwich is reminded almost daily of this fact. A large portion of the team’s success — or failure — for the upcoming season will rest on his shoulders.

No problem.

“My expectations for myself are higher than anything others put on me,” said Leftwich, who was the seventh overall pick in the 2003 draft. “Nobody on this team allows outsiders to put pressure on us that we don’t already put on ourselves.”

Leftwich has been solid in his first two seasons. But overall offensive stagnation has been a problem. Under former coordinator Bill Musgrave’s West Coast-style offense, the Jaguars never scored more than 28 points in a game in the past two seasons. The Jags were 21st in total offense and 29th in scoring offense last season.

Reviving the offense has been the Jaguars’ main focus in the offseason. The Jaguars added a new offensive coordinator, former USC quarterbacks coach Carl Smith, who has installed a pass-heavy system that will rely heavily on Leftwich’s arm. In the 2005 draft, the team added Matt Jones, a quarterback-turned receiver from Arkansas, to add to a corps of receivers that contains Jimmy Smith, Troy Edwards and second-year pros Reggie Williams and Ernest Wilford.

“That’s going to make me look good,” Leftwich said, smiling. “There’s no such thing as too many wide receivers. You can never have enough.”

His performances in the team’s recent organized-team activities have showed promise. During a June 17 workout, Leftwch was 27 of 32 with two drops. Coaches say his mechanics improved, resulting in quicker and more decisive decisions.

“It’s been great to have him embrace the offense the way he has,” Jags Coach Jack Del Rio said. “On a personal level, his footwork and mechanics and the strength he’s earned in the weight room has shown out here on the field.

Of course, the timing with the receivers, getting on the same page and understanding where they’re going to break off routes and things — that’s been very good.”

“It’s been a very very productive spring for Byron.”

Leftwich clearly is a fan of Smith’s new offense.

“It’s easy now,” Leftwich said. “Once you get down the terminology and what you’re trying to get accomplished, he can just say the play and it can be a brand new play and I can know what we’re going to do as a team. It’s new, but at the same time it’s football. It has a football aspect to it, and that makes it easy to learn.”

“Right now I’m comfortable with it. I know what everybody’s doing on every single play.”

Smith, still one of the most productive receivers in the league says he’s “looking forward to a lot of big plays being made downfield vertically.”

There’s that pressure again. Leftwich says he plans to thrive.