Byron Leftwich, until recently among the most promising young starting quarterbacks in the NFL, could join the Steelers today as the replacement for injured backup Charlie Batch.
Before Leftwich boarded a jet in Atlanta last evening for the trip to Pittsburgh, he said he would welcome playing behind Ben Roethlisberger.
"They have an opportunity to win it all," Leftwich said. "To be part of that, if I can help, that's my mind-set. I'm just trying to get back out there."
The Steelers were talking to agent Tom Condon last night about a possible contract. Leftwich said it was his understanding that he would not work out before any possible deal was struck. The Steelers resume practice at Saint Vincent College in Latrobe today.
Leftwich, 28, was the seventh overall pick in the 2003 draft from Marshall, one year before the Steelers drafted Roethlisberger with the 11th overall pick from Miami of Ohio in the same Mid-American Conference. The two have been friends since their days in the MAC, a conference that also produced Batch, who played at Eastern Michigan. Steelers quarterbacks coach Ken Anderson also was Leftwich's quarterbacks coach for part of his career in Jacksonville.
"I know Ben well, him and Charlie," Leftwich said. "I played against Ben, competed against him in college. It was fun."
Leftwich replaced injured Mark Brunell as Jacksonville's starting quarterback in his rookie season and remained the Jaguars starter the next four seasons. However, severe ankle injuries limited him to 11 starts in 2005 and six in 2006, and he fell out of favor with coach Jack Del Rio.
He entered 2007 as the starter but was cut Sept. 1 and signed by Atlanta. There, another ankle injury curtailed his play after he had become the starter. The Falcons, who drafted Boston College's Matt Ryan in the first round this year, released Leftwich in February.
Leftwich last evening cited those injuries as the reason his career hit a snag.
"I don't think it was an issue with my production when on the football field. It was just the time I missed because of injuries. Believe me, I wasn't trying to do that."
His 2,819 passing yards in 2003 were the fourth-most by a rookie quarterback in NFL history. His record as a starter in Jacksonville was 24-20. Leftwich, who is 6 feet 5, reportedly has lost 25 pounds and weighs 225.
He has been dogged by ankle injuries in the NFL, but when healthy has been productive. Through 11 games in 2005, he had 15 touchdown passes, just five interceptions and 2,123 yards. He played in six games in 2006 before he again was injured.
"Something happens in the game of football," said Leftwich, who was extremely popular with his Jacksonville teammates. "It was going so good for me. Then came the injuries. It's something I understand and something I have to live with.
"Right now, I'm really anxious to get back out there on the field."
Leftwich had a tryout with the Tennessee Titans 10 days ago. After Atlanta released him, he hoped to sign with a team that would allow him to compete for a starting job. However, he said he would be happy to play behind Roethlisberger.
"I think anytime you get a chance to play for a team like this with this much tradition, you do it," Leftwich said. "Just to be part of it ... playing against those guys, they were always a well-coached, good football team."
The Steelers did not mention how long he might be on their roster if signed. Coach Mike Tomlin estimated that Batch could miss four to six weeks and that they would not place him on injured reserve.
"I don't know what the situation is, I don't know the process," Leftwich said. "I just want to come in and try to work my butt off."