Friday, September 15, 2006
By Colin Dunlap, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
An undeserved stigma, perhaps?
Does Jacksonville Jaguars quarterback Byron Leftwich have a real or only perceived lack of mobility? Is he as cement-footed and pokey as people say, or is that reputation unfairly saddling the 6-foot-5, 242-pounder?
Well, as far as tongue-in-cheek responses, he offered one of the better ones in recent NFL conference-call history yesterday when the subject was broached.
"I'm constantly telling people, but they are not listening," Leftwich said, with a chuckle and then a few hearty laughs. "I'm not a slow quarterback, I'm just the slowest black one."
He then went on to qualify that statement by enacting his own ranking system on the footspeed of the starting quarterbacks around the league.
"I say that all the time, because if you count all 32, I'm just in the middle," Leftwich said. "I'm about No. 15 or No. 16."
While few would argue that Leftwich will never be considered fleet-of-foot or that his escapability is one of his most endearing qualities, the truth is that, coupled with his linebackeresque size, he carries a supersized chunk of self assurance. There's not a lot that psychologically rattles this 26-year-old Washington, D.C., native. Far be it for him to become frazzled by the possibility of a Monday night, nationally televised rib cage-rattling meeting with the Sports Illustrated-anointed "Most Feared Player in the NFL," Steelers linebacker Joey Porter.
"I don't fear nobody now," Leftwich said. "I respect [Porter] a lot. But I don't think nobody fears nobody. I understand what type of great player he is ... but to say I fear him? I fear no man."
Leftwich's size, talent and confidence are all reasons he poses a concern for the reigning Super Bowl champions in Jacksonville. While he has just 323 yards rushing in 40 games over his three-year career, that statistic is viewed by some as an unrealistic indicator as to the kind of player he is.
"All it comes down to is that he's a winner," Steelers defensive end Aaron Smith said of Leftwich, another Mid-American Conference quarterback (Marshall) who has made it big in the NFL.
"Leftwich makes plays to win games. It's not about your size or how fast you run, it's about being a winner; he's a winner."
Leftwich's record as an NFL starter is 22-17. He is expected to improve on that mark this season. He is an imposing sight for any NFL defense. As a point of reference, the 242 pounds he carries is just a single pound lighter than Steelers linebacker James Farrior.
Getting close enough to tackle Leftwich is one thing, putting him on the ground is much more difficult than corralling a Doug Flutie or Jeff Garcia.
"When I get the opportunity to come off the corner on a blitz, I get excited," Steelers cornerback Deshea Townsend said. "More than likely, when you are playing against a quarterback who is going to be in the pocket like Leftwich, you can get a good shot at him. But then you realize you have to hit him as hard as you can to bring him down. You have to wrap him up or he's not going down."
And this season, Leftwich could be tougher to bring down than ever. Much tougher than in Week 2 of last year when he was sacked six times at Indianapolis for minus-23 yards.
And the reason: "I've lost about 13 pounds since last year," Leftwich explained.
After rethinking how his new streamlined physique might have knocked a 10th of a second or two off his 40-yard dash time, Leftwich took time to reposition himself in the unofficial fastest-to-slowest NFL starting quarterback rankings.
"After losing the weight, maybe I'm a little faster, maybe I'm like No. 9 or 10 right now," Leftwich said with a chuckle.