Did Byron Leftwich Get a Raw Deal?

The Tampa Bay Buccaneers announced today that QB Byron Leftwich will be replaced in the position by Josh Johnson.  Former Kansas State star and QB of the future Josh Freeman will be promoted to #2.  Johnson replaced Leftwich in yesterday’s 24-0 loss at the hands of the New York Giants.  But did Raheem Morris do the right thing in going with a young QB?  Is the timing right?  Is he changing the right piece of the puzzle?  Is this is a sign of desperation after the recent firing of the offensive coordinator?

The Buccaneers have struggled on offense (and defense) this season.  Leftwich, however, entered yesterday’s game ranked #6 in passing yards on the season and had a passer rating of 80.5. He has thrown 4 touchdowns against 2 interceptions and completed 56 percent of his passes.  Growing pains aside, Leftwich’s completion percentage was higher than quarterbacks Tony Romo (51.8%), Kyle Orton and Jake Delhomme (55.2).  Last week in Buffalo, Leftwich presided over a 33-21 loss in which he threw for 296 yards.  (New Orleans QB Drew Brees, on Sunday, passed for only 173 yards and no touchdowns at the Bills.)  In Week 1, the Cowboys defeated the Bucs 34-20.  Leftwich completed 25 of 41 passes; led two fourth-quarter scoring drives; and demonstrated some real toughness in what could have been an embarrassing opening loss.

Antonio Bryant, Tampa’s leading receiver in 2008 has been injured for most of the season.  Bryant played briefly vs. the Cowboys and Giants, but was unable to go vs. the Bills.  Kellen Winslow appeared to be revitalized in partnership with Leftwich.  Entering Week 3, Winslow was on pace to approach some of his career numbers in catches and yards.  Perhaps the greatest limitation in Leftwich’s arsenal is the absence of Pro Bowl-caliber center Jeff Faine.    The Buccaneers offensive line is anchored by this tough, talented player who has made his mark since being selected by the Cleveland Browns in the first round of the 2003 NFL draft.  Faine’s presence would have gone a long way to bolstering the performance of Leftwich and the offense.

Miami+Dolphins+v+Tampa+Bay+Buccaneers+O4Dx_4j4ZSwl

The emergence of Josh Johnson changes things.  What is not likely to change is that this version of the Bucs has surrendered an unseemly 91 points in 3 games.

From NFL.com’s Draft Coverage of Josh Johnson:

One of the game’s best-kept secrets, at least where the national media is concerned, Johnson has greatly impressed professional scouts that have actually seen him perform. Many will agree that he is one of the most exciting athletes to watch with the ball in his hands, bringing back memories of Michael Vick and Vince Young during their collegiate days.

Johnson brings tremendous energy to the field and is the type defenses must account for on every play. Whether it is unleashing a deep pass, putting zip on his short throws or playing like a whirling dervish running with the ball, the talented quarterback has proven he can strike from anywhere on the field.

Johnson earned first-team All-City, Oakland Chamber of Commerce Prep of the Month and Most Improved Player honors as a senior at Oakland Technical High School. He was also named Most Inspirational his junior year when he could not play due to injury. He threw for 1,900 yards and 22 touchdowns with just two interceptions his senior season, leading his team to the Oakland Athletic League Championship.

The versatile athlete also lettered in basketball and track. He was an honorable mention All-City choice in hoops and finished in the high jump (6’5″) at the Oakland Athletic League Championships.

Looking for an opportunity to be part of a rising football program, Johnson turned down scholarship offers from St. Mary’s and Idaho State to enroll at San Diego in 2004. That year, he appeared in seven games, playing behind Todd Mortensen. He hit on 12-of-22 passes (54.5%) for 135 yards, no touchdowns and one interception. He added 39 yards and a pair of scores on 13 carries (3.0 avg), caught a 3-yard pass and returned a pair of punts for a 1-yard loss.

With Mortensen having graduated, Johnson took over starting duties in 2005, going on to win the first of two Pioneer Football League Offensive Player of the Year honors. He was a first-team All-American choice by The Sports Network and named Division 1-AA Offensive Back of the Year by the Football Gazette.

Johnson ranked 11th in the nation in pass completions (260-of-371 attempts), setting school season-records for pass completion percentage (70.1), yards passing (3,256) and touchdown passes (36). He finished second nationally with a 171.51 passing efficiency rating and ranked fifth with an average of 302.92 yards per game in total offense. His 3,635 yards in total offense is the second-highest season total in school history.

In 2006, Johnson received consensus All-American and unanimous All-Pioneer Football League first-team recognition. The Division 1-AA Offensive Player of the Year by The NFL Draft Report was also selected the PFL’s Offensive Player of the Year. He led the nation with a 169.02 passing efficiency rating, an average of 333.67 yards per game in total offense, 3,320 yards passing and 24.33 points per game that he was responsible for.

Johnson connected on 246-of-371 passes (66.3%) with 34 touchdowns and only five interceptions. He picked up 720 yards with 11 scores on 107 carries (6.7 avg) and caught two passes for 27 yards and a touchdown. He participated in 478 plays, as his 4,040 yards in total offense rank 15th on the NCAA FCS/1-AA season-record list.

Johnson earned the team’s MVP award following the 2007 season. He finished third in the Walter Payton Award voting while throwing a school-record 43 touchdown passes. He led the nation in total offense, passing efficiency and points responsible for.

Johnson finished his career as the NCAA’s all-time leader in passing efficiency at 176.7.

Maybe Josh Johnson is the real deal.  Maybe the Buccaneers miss Monte Kiffin more than they miss Jeff Garcia.

Kiffin and the New Troops -- Kneeling at Neyland

5 comments

  1. Wow – didn’t know that B-Left’s numbers were that good. He receives so much criticism for his wind-up release that one would think that his numbers were completely terrible. His release does seem to effect his ability to put touch on some passes that I’ve seen him miss. The Bucs defense simply looks like a complete mess and that coach appears to be in WAY over his head!

  2. I think this move was particularly foul given that the Bucs had just hired an offensive coordinator who was known in certain circles for NEVER HAVING CALLED PLAYS IN HIS LIFE. Jagodzinski, the former head coach at Boston College, had worked in several places but was removed by the Bucs after they found him incapable of handling the job. According to one source I found, he let his assistants call the game and he simply watched.

    For Leftwich to do what he did — with a new coordinator, with a new center, and an injury to the best wide receiver on the team — was commendable. What the Bucs leadership has done is curious at best.

    I watched the Bucs games and had the feeling that Leftwich was playing as if he was outside of his body. In other words, he seemed detached from the game. He didn’t evince that sense of ownership that is critical to the position. His body language just seemed off. I don’t think that’s surprising given the larger context.

    I don’t know how Raheem Morris doesn’t expect to “lose Leftwich.” He hopes that BL can mentor the younger QBs in the fold. He might. On the other hand, he might think he was being set up as a scapegoat. How much time have the Bucs bought for themselves with this stunt? Is the plan to do the same thing with Josh Johnson?

    Everyone knows that the Bucs QB of the future is named Josh — FREEMAN. Morris worked at Kansas State and knows Freeman intimately. He had a clear preference for Freeman from the beginning and so — is all of this simply a delaying tactic to buy time for Freeman to learn the system? Whatever it is, I don’t think its very professional. It’s sad to see.

  3. The Bucs are a mess from the top on down. From the way that they fired Gruden to how Tony Dungy was fired despite winning games in the regular season and playoffs, to the way Jagodzinski was fired, to now benching Leftwich. Teams that make moves like these are usually stuck in a pattern of losing. No continuity or consistency is a bad thing.

    To be fair, I haven’t seen a Bucs game this season, so I don’t know how Leftwich and the offense has played. I do know that they are giving up more points now than they have in a while. It’s going to be a long season, and hopefully Raheem Morris can make it through. The owners of the Bucs have shown no loyalty to their past two coaches, so Morris should watch his back.

  4. Leftwich’s delivery is painful to watch. Jason Campbell has a bit of that as well. It takes so long for the ball to come out. Sometimes, it’s like watching paint dry. To be fair though, Winslow has dropped a number of easy passes, Bryant’s been injured, Michael Clayton is a shell of his former self and the running game needs Faine. At full health, I like their ability to go deep and score points in the red zone with their big targets and runners like Ward and Williams.

    That’s all done for now — unless Josh Johnson is the absolute truth.

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