PITTSBURGH – He hasn’t started an NFL game since 2009 and hasn’t won one since 2005. So why is Byron Leftwich all smiles this week?
Perhaps it is because he knows something that most other people don’t. Namely, Leftwich feels that all is not necessarily lost for the Steelers (6-3) just because quarterback Ben Roethlisberger is out for Sunday night’s game against the Baltimore Ravens (7-2) because of shoulder and rib injuries.
“To be honest with you. ... it’s exciting to get an opportunity to get out there with the Mike Wallaces of the world, the Emmanuel Sanders, the Heath Millers, to have an opportunity to get the ball to these guys,” said Leftwich. “Just to play with this caliber of team gives me comfort, understanding who I’m going out there with.”
In other words, Leftwich has confidence in himself.
At 32 and a 10-year veteran of the NFL, Leftwich has plenty to be confident about.
The seventh pick in the 2003 draft by the Jacksonville Jaguars, Leftwich has been a “franchise” quarterback himself.
Taking over for Mark Brunell, Leftwich led the Jaguars to at 24-20 record in his first four seasons, including an 8-3 record in 11 games in 2004. Injuries took a toll, and Jacksonville decided to turn to David Garrard in 2007, cutting Leftwich loose.
He signed with Atlanta, making three starts before an ankle injury again sidelined him. He signed as a backup to Roethlisberger in 2008, becoming part of a Super Bowl winner with the Steelers. He left for Tampa Bay in 2009, signing a two-year, $17-million contract, for an opportunity to start.
Leftwich started the first three games for the lowly Bucs – all losses – before Tampa Bay decided to play its younger players en route to a 3-13 season.
Leftwich was traded to Pittsburgh the following offseason for a seventh-round draft pick.
“I think everybody knows what I am,” said Leftwich, who has completed 58 percent of his career passes for 10,333 yards, 58 touchdowns and 41 interceptions. “I’m a pocket passer who throws the ball from the pocket like 60 to 70 percent of the rest of the guys (in the NFL). You don’t have to be fast. I don’t have to run around to play. If that were the cast, we wouldn’t call the Tom Bradys of the world elite, the Eli Mannings of the world. I’ve got to be faster than Eli.”
Interestingly, had things gone the way Leftwich thought they would in 2003, he wouldn’t be making his first start in the Baltimore-Pittsburgh rivalry.
Leftwich thought he would be with the Ravens in 2003.
The Minnesota Vikings owned the seventh pick in the draft and had agreed to a trade with the Ravens, who were in need of a quarterback and told Leftwich he was their guy.
While trying to work out the deal, however, the Vikings went over their allotted time limit and their pick was skipped, allowing Jacksonville to instead take Leftwich. Four selections later, the Ravens took a defensive end from Arizona State named Terrell Suggs.
“He is from the draft class of 2003. I instantly think a lot of him,” said Suggs, who will have the task of chasing Leftwich around Sunday night. “That was one of the best draft classes the NFL has ever had.
“As a player, it’s been 10 years now, so he’s obviously doing something right.”
Leftwich is looking forward to doing something right against the Ravens.
“This isn’t a bad situation to be in,” Leftwich said. “We have a quarterback who’s been to the Super Bowl three times in nine years. That goes to show how good he is as a quarterback. I’m not going to go out there and try to be Ben. We see the game differently, and there are things that he can do physically that I can’t do.
“We understand that everybody is like, ‘Hey man, they’ve got a backup quarterback Sunday night playing the Baltimore Ravens.’ We understand that nobody is giving us a shot, and that’s OK.”
Odds and end zones
In addition to Roethlisberger, wide receiver Antonio Brown (ankle), offensive tackle Marcus Gilbert (ankle), and safety Troy Polamalu (calf) missed practice. Running back Rashard Mendenhall is expected to start for the Steelers against Baltimore. ... The Steelers placed linebacker Chris Carter on season-ending injured reserve with an abdominal injury. They signed linebacker Marshall McFadden off the practice squad to take Carter’s roster spot. ... Tight end Jamie McCoy and defensive tackle Alameda Ta’amu have been added to the practice squad this week. ... Baltimore starting cornerback Jimmy Smith had surgery to repair a sports hernia Thursday. Smith, Baltimore’s top draft pick in 2010, had been starting in place of Lardarius Webb after he was lost for the season.