I keep hearing stories about Byron Leftwich and whether it was the right thing to do to cut him and go with David Garrard. “Is Leftwich happy?” is the over riding theme. The answer is: “Who cares?”
I don’t have any beef with Byron and I didn’t have a huge opinion about whether he or Garrard should have been the starter all along. (But I did write in this column the week before the draft that the Jaguars shouldn’t take Leftwich. It’s in the archives.)
But he’s gone and somehow, his talent and ability to move the team, let alone stay on the field and avoid injury, is blown way out of proportion. “Now that he’s with the Falcons, he’ll be a star,” is how one fan put it to me while I was waiting in line last week at a restaurant.
Really? So he’s automatically changed? He’s more nimble? He has better mechanics?
He’s in the next phase of his career in a different city and a different conference. Bob Petrino is a big passing game guy so maybe the system in Atlanta will suit him. But if they think Joey Harrington isn’t mobile enough, Leftwich is a statue in comparison.
No question he didn’t like Jacksonville and he didn’t get along well with Jack Del Rio but did those things hold him back from being a superstar? I don’t think so. I always thought he was OK. “Stop telling me he’s Namath,” was my standard line. “There’s probably 10 guys in the league I’d rather have than him and I’d probably rather have him than 10 other guys in the league. He’s OK.”
But stop thinking about Leftwich and whether it was the right thing for the Jaguars or not. He’s gone and he’s not coming back. In fact, Jack Del Rio staked his career as the Jaguars head Coach on cutting Leftwich and putting Garrard in the game. If the Jaguars aren’t a playoff contender this year, Wayne Weaver will be scanning the lists of potential head coaches for 2008.
And James Harris will be gone as well.
I’ve often wondered how different Garrard would be if he was given the same opportunities as Leftwich, a first round pick. Would he have tried so hard last year that he couldn’t get out of his own way? I’m not sure but given a little rope, we’re going to find out. In the first two games, David’s played well but hasn’t been spectacular. That might or might not happen, but for now, the quarterback situation isn’t the issue.
There’s an undercurrent that also drifts through the fans attitude toward cutting Byron and keeping Garrard: David’s not black enough. I’ve heard a lot of ridiculous things but that’s about the most spectacularly ignorant thought process I can even conjure up.
Both Leftwich and Garrard were popular teammates, perhaps David a little more popular because he was the backup, which is pretty normal. Leftwich is a kid from D.C. and hasn’t changed. He’s a bit lazy with his speech and it cost him in endorsements. That and some unreasonable demands when he first came to town, looking for money that nobody had when he was first shopping himself around. It’s rumored that the Jaguars asked him to take some speech lessons, which he refused to do.
One teammate told me, “He’s a weird dude.” “How so,” I asked. “Who do you know wears sunglasses in the locker room at 7AM?” Ok, a little idiosyncratic, but I wouldn’t call that weird. Maybe it was a bit of a rough night. I’ve been told that Leftwich had a few of those on his resume as well. But of course, all of us have at one time or another.
So how can Garrard win the fans support, even those who thought he should be gone and the team should have stuck with Byron. Or even Quinn Gray.
That fixes everything.
Mark Brunell has iconic status in Jacksonville but he was somewhere in the middle of the quarterback pack even in his heyday. But in ’96 and ’99 the team won and #8 was at the helm.
I’ve heard it all when it comes to quarterbacks. He’s too short, his feet are too small, he’s not Christian enough, he’s too religious, he throws too hard and he’s scared and doesn’t want to get hit anymore. No matter what it is, everybody’s got an opinion. I’m sure it was the same in Miami when Marino was playing. Somebody had a beef with what he was doing. I know they moaned in Denver about Elway before he won two Super Bowls and even with his four titles all we ever heard about Terry Bradshaw was that he was stupid.
As for Garrard, let’s let him play. Let’s see what he is before we pass judgment. As Del Rio said when he made the change, “It’s a matter of style.” And Jack got it right. Let’s see what kind of style David brings to the table.