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Garrard's big chance


His time is at hand. David Garrard will now have the chance to prove he's worthy of the title, "starting quarterback."

His fans had been clamoring for it weekly, even when Byron Leftwich was playing at an elite level. Why don't they put Garrard in the game? Couldn't they give him a chance once in awhile? Why not put him in to run the quarterback sneak?

Oh, baby, he's gonna run a lot more than the quarterback sneak now. Garrard, folks, is now "The Man."

We don't know for how long – a game, two games, maybe more – but for a team in the midst of a division title chase, Garrard's performance in Leftwich's absence will probably determine whether the Jaguars make it to the playoffs.

And that's why they have the guy. The Jaguars had offers. There were teams interested in trading for him. But the Jaguars turned a deaf ear to trade offers because they knew it was likely they would need Garrard to do exactly what he is going to try to do now: Pick up the slack created by Leftwich's injury.

All of that whining and crying about not playing Garrard more is now pointless. His time has come and it won't be a play here and a play there. Wanna see him play? Buy a ticket; you'll get your money's worth.

"That's what my job is; be ready when my number is called," Garrard said on Wednesday.

It's true. That was his job. Of course, his job description has now changed. He is now responsible for everything that goes with the title "starting quarterback."

His old title was "backup quarterback." What a great way to earn a pension.

His new title is "The Man." Tough job, but that's why the guys who are good at it make so much money.

Garrard doesn't make a lot of money. He's a fourth-round pick working on the next-to-last year of his rookie contract. But he has outrageous athletic talent that could make him somebody's long-term starting quarterback.

That's half of the intrigue involved in this situation. It only took Rob Johnson one game, the 1997 season opener, to earn the Jaguars first and fourth-round picks in a trade with the Buffalo Bills. What will Garrard attract, should he hit a home run in his opportunity as a starting quarterback?

"I have (thought about it)," Garrard said, "but I'm trying not to get too far ahead of myself."

Garrard was "The Man" at East Carolina. He was the program; a four-year starter, the player whose performance was the difference between victory and defeat. It is what all quarterbacks want; the distinction that goes with ultimate accountability.

In the NFL, Garrard has only had one pro start and, at that, it was somewhat of a token gesture; last game of a losing season. He did OK, showed some promise, but nothing of any importance was at stake.

That won't be the case if Garrard is under center for the start of the Jaguars' next game. He would be the starting quarterback for a 5-3 team that would be no worse than tied for first place in the AFC South. Depending on how long Leftwich is to be sidelined by his knee injury – we'll know for sure next Monday – the Jaguars' fate this season will rest on Garrard's ample shoulders.

"I'm excited about my opportunity. I have to step in now and finish where he left," Garrard said of the circumstances Leftwich produced in the first half of this season. "I'm finally going to be able to earn some of my checks."

He will be a player of intense interest. His performance will be the equivalent of a football soap opera.

Worthy of the title "starting quarterback?" Or just a "backup?"

The answer to those questions will provide the subplot within the ultimate storyline: Can Garrard keep the Jaguars on pace for the playoffs?

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