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Is this a turning point?


The lapses are still there, but they are fewer than when spring practices began a month ago. With a week of OTA practices remaining, Byron Leftwich is starting to look comfortable, confident.

He had a rough morning of practice on Tuesday, but gave his coach a rush of optimism on Wednesday when Leftwich's passes almost always found their mark. Thursday's practice was a combination of the previous two days.

Early in practice there was a wild throw into a crowd of defenders, followed by a short toss into the ground, but then Leftwich rebounded. Late in practice, Leftwich hit Charles Sharon with a dart along the sideline, after Sharon had found a soft spot in the zone.

Maybe we'll remember this week for when Leftwich turned the corner. It's only June and these practices are not to be confused with what's ahead in August, but maybe this will have turned out to be a dramatic week in Leftwich's controversial career.

"I think I appreciate it more, being able to be out here with the guys," Leftwich said, obviously referring to the fact that an ankle injury he suffered on Nov. 27, 2005, has caused him to miss 16 of the Jaguars' last 22 games. "I have to go all out all of the time. I'm happy. I'm throwing downfield," he added.

Everything about the Jaguars' beleaguered pass-offense is new; new offensive coordinator, new quarterbacks coach, new wide receivers coaches, a trio of new wide receivers and a new attitude. Jack Del Rio has re-committed to Leftwich, who is in the best physical shape of his career and determined to make this his breakout year.

"I think it's going great. I believe we're ahead of schedule," Leftwich said of the installation of new coordinator Dirk Koetter's offense. "We're throwing everything at them right now; more than you'd ever have in a game, so every once in a while you have a bust."

Those busted plays are fewer now than they were at the start of spring drills. There is hope for a passing game that was the villain in the Jaguars' fall to 8-8 last year.

"What we're doing offensively is obviously different from last year. They've all picked it up quick," new quarterbacks coach Mike Shula said.

Shula is saddled with no less a task than improving Leftwich's much-maligned mechanics. It's been obvious that Shula has targeted Leftwich's footwork.

"Playing quarterback, you have to be real balanced all of the time," Shula said. "Mainly it's the footwork."

The concern for Leftwich's long-armed delivery is not as great. He remains a quarterback with a hearty windup. The difference in Leftwich this spring is in his footwork. On his good days and good throws, he's had a look of gracefulness. That was especially true in Wednesday's practice.

"If there are things you think you can change and you can help him and not hinder him, you have to look at that, but these guys are here for a reason. If their mechanics were that bad, they wouldn't be here," Shula said.

Efficient quarterbacking is the result of three ingredients. "Go to the right guy with the football, go there on time and be accurate. It doesn't matter how you do it, as long as it gets there. We know we have to pick things up in the passing game," Shula added.

Maybe, just maybe, that pick up began this week.

Sharon was the star of Thursday's practice. He caught several passes, including a beautifully thrown pass by David Garrard. Sharon is clearly pushing for a roster spot.

"Every day you see him make plays and you don't normally get that from an undrafted free agent," Leftwich said of Sharon.

Montell Owens is another player from last year's crop of undrafted players who was impressive on Thursday. Owens has already established himself as a potential kick-coverage star, but now he's pushing for time at fullback, too.

Owens, listed at 5-10, 219, appears to have added bulk and muscle to his body during the offseason. As a fullback on Thursday, Owens flashed very good receiving skills by catching the ball with ease on several swing passes and check-downs.

Meanwhile, starting fullback Greg Jones made a statement about the health of his reconstructed knee when he caught a pass over the middle, made a move on Dee Webb and flashed past the speedy cornerback.

Thursday's practice had several high moments during passing drills, but not all of them belonged to the offense. Third-year cornerback Scott Starks ran step-for-step with rookie wide receiver John Broussard on a deep route, knocking the ball away from Broussard.

A few plays later, Pro-Bowl cornerback Rashean Mathis intercepted Quinn Gray. "Nickel" back Terry Cousin also made an interception on a Garrard pass down the middle.

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