Byron Leftwich shows off his new black-and-teal shoes and smiles.
"What do you think about calling them `Air Leftwich?"' he says.
Fortified with an endorsement deal and a quickly obtained knowledge of the playbook, the rookie quarterback for the Jacksonville Jaguars seems to have the makings of a star.
Five weeks after being selected seventh in the draft, Leftwich comes off as confident, not cocky. He realizes that 2003 will likely be a learning season behind Mark Brunell, but he isn't conceding anything -- especially not to the widely held presumption that a rookie quarterback can't grasp the intricacies of an NFL playbook in the span of a few months.
"I'm at the point where I'm confident now," Leftwich said on the opening day of the second of three minicamps the Jaguars are holding this month. "I'm able to go out there and be consistent every time. I know what's going on."
For the most part, he stood in the pocket and threw with authority. At 6-foot-5, 245 pounds, the rookie from Marshall is an imposing site. When he has a clue about what he's doing -- he didn't at the team's first minicamp, held right after the draft -- it's clear to see why so many experts thought he was the best quarterback coming out of college this year.
"I just seem more comfortable," Leftwich said. "Even watching myself on film, I know what I'm doing. I'm not out there thinking. I'm just going out and reacting."
Jaguars quarterbacks coach Ken Anderson agrees, and says an intensive, two-week study session he spent with Leftwich between the first minicamp and now has paid huge dividends.
The mental part of Leftwich's game, Anderson says, has never been in doubt.
"When we went into the classroom, had a chance to look at things, then go onto the field and work on things. It helped him tremendously," Anderson said.
Now that the shock of the Jaguars' surprise decision to take Leftwich has worn off, things have somewhat returned to normal in the locker room: Brunell is presumed the starter, even though it's still pretty clear this will be his last season with the team. Leftwich and David Garrard will compete for the second-string job.
"I can't look at it as competition," Leftwich said. "I'm only trying to go out there and get better."
Soon enough, however, there will be competition -- not only between Leftwich and the other quarterbacks, but between Leftwich and the rest of the league. How long Leftwich will remain on the bench will be one of the biggest questions in Jacksonville this season.
Another is how Leftwich will respond to the West Coast offense the Jaguars are installing, a scheme that calls for lots of quick, short throws that might not fit into what the quarterback does best.
Thus far, however, he has passed every test, and the Jaguars are happy with the decision they made.
"We've got to take the next step with pads on, contact, practice, preseason games," Anderson said. "But for right now, it's looking good."
The Associated Press News Service
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