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Garrard or Leftwich?


Jack Del Rio is facing the most critical decision of his young coaching career. Does he bench a quarterback who played the best game of his professional football life and go with a guy coming off a broken ankle?

That's the question Del Rio must answer over the next two weeks, as the Jaguars prepare for their first playoff appearance in six years. Stick with David Garrard or reinstall Byron Leftwich as the Jaguars' starting quarterback?

You think it's an easy call? No way. This is tough stuff; the toughest of stuff because it involves the most important position in sports and two guys with distinctly different styles who you'd love to combine into one polished, instinctive, athletic passer on whose shoulders the Jaguars might ride through the postseason. But you can't. Pick one and live with his strengths and weaknesses.

So who would you pick? Would you go with Leftwich, the more natural passer of the two quarterbacks but a guy who lacks mobility on two healthy legs, let alone on one that just came off crutches? Or would you go with Garrard, the lesser of the two passers but a guy who makes plays with his feet and possesses superior athletic skills?

Ah, the great debate rages. Just when it appeared he was in decline and about to give way to Leftwich, Garrard rebounded big time in the Jaguars' 38-20, playoff-clinching win over the Texans.

Meanwhile, Leftwich prowled the sideline, a couple of days after he jogged around the practice field for the first time since he fractured his left ankle in Arizona on Nov. 27. All of Leftwich's body language is saying "play me." Meanwhile, Garrard did not concede the job when asked following Saturday's game if he's ready to turn it back over to Leftwich.

"I expect the coaches to make a good decision. That's all I can ask for. If I'm asked to start and play the game, that's what I'll do. I'm not going to lie, I'd like them to keep me in there," Garrard told reporters following the win in Houston.

Del Rio was ready for the question. He knows what he's facing. He knows there's no dodging it and, to his credit, he didn't dodge it in his postgame press conference.

"The first thing I want to do is see Byron move. He seems pretty confident he'll be out there for practice on Wednesday," Del Rio said. "When he's able to practice long enough to show me he can lead this offense the way he was leading it before the injury, yeah, he'll be the quarterback."

Leftwich is this team's starting quarterback. The Jaguars are as committed to him now as they were three years ago when they made him the seventh pick of the draft and the first pick of the Del Rio era. The only issue concerning Leftwich's return to the starting job is when it will happen. Is this the time? Is he recovered enough and can he knock the rust off fast enough to be playoff-ready?

"I can't give you a stock answer right now. It depends on how Byron practices. We'll have a good decision (to make) on Wednesday," Del Rio said, looking forward to the start of practice for Sunday's regular-season finale against Tennessee.

The Jaguars are locked at the number five position in the AFC playoffs, but the game against the Titans will be anything but meaningless. It's a game that'll have to provide Del Rio with the information he'll need to make the most critical decision of his three years as a head coach.

Garrard or Leftwich? Pick.

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