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Leftwich has the answers


It was a much-anticipated press conference and it disappointed no one.

Byron Leftwich sat in front of the Jacksonville media on Tuesday and answered every question with an air-clearing frankness. Tuesday morning, of course, Leftwich led the Jaguars onto the field for the team's first OTA (organized team activity) practice of the spring.

His appearance ended a more-than-two-month wait for a reaction to having been reinstated as the Jaguars' starting quarterback. Coach Jack Del Rio made that announcement on Feb. 22. Since then, there had only been silence from Leftwich, until Tuesday.

"I always thought there was no reason to react because I always felt that way. It was no news to me. They believe I'm the best option at quarterback for this team to win. I felt that way all the time," Leftwich said.

He was back under center on Tuesday and Leftwich said his weight is at 247 pounds. The team's 2006 media guide listed Leftwich at 242 pounds, though that figure may have been wishful thinking.

So, is he lighter? Yeah, he looked a little more trim, but it's not as though anyone had trouble identifying him. The media knew exactly who he was when he walked into the room. Same Byron; right to the point.

"My motivation is to make sure I play 16 games. If you miss as many games as I have the last two years, there's going to be doubt," Leftwich said.

Leftwich missed 10 games last season, after missing the final five games of the 2005 season. He was injured early in the first quarter of game 11 of the '05 season, so, including that game, Leftwich has missed a full season in two years.

The ankle injury that sidelined him in '06 was somewhat mysterious. Tuesday, Leftwich said the injury was residual damage from the fractured ankle he sustained in '05. Loose particles resulted from the '05 broken ankle and Leftwich began to experience pain in the ankle following a week-four game in Washington last season.

"In the playoff game ('05 season), I felt no pain. After the Washington game, I felt pain," Leftwich said. "The ankle over time … it went as far as it could go. If I had to do it all over, I probably would have the surgery before last year."

Leftwich's season came to an end last year when he opted to have surgery on the ankle and begin his offseason rehabilitation. He said he was already pain-free in December and feeling as though he was capable of playing.

"Totally recovered," he said of his ankle. "No pain, no nothing in the ankle. This is the best my ankle has felt in three years."

He appeared to move freely and without encumbrance during Tuesday morning's workout, as he threw to a collection of wide receivers that included one significant new player, free-agent acquisition Dennis Northcutt. "He looked real good out there," Northcutt said of Leftwich.

It was a new day in a lot of ways. Leftwich was back on the field and with a fresh attitude, and he was joined by a gaggle of new offensive coaches, including coordinator Dirk Koetter and quarterbacks coach Mike Shula. It was a good day to clear the air and move in a new direction.

What about his relationship with Del Rio?

"When you look at the big picture here and winning football games, it doesn't really matter," Leftwich said. "I'm not saying the relationship is good or bad. It's just not relevant to what we're trying to do here.

"I don't call Jack and say meet me at the bar and we'll have a drink, but I respect him as a coach. I don't want to make it a distraction," Leftwich said.

What about his future beyond the 2007 season? Does he want to remain the Jaguars' starting quarterback?

"I would love that, but that's not my decision," he said. "I'm going to focus on this year. I feel if I do that, we will be as successful as we should be. I can't begin to focus on the future. The only thing that's been guaranteed me is this next year."

Leftwich said the team has not approached him about negotiating a new contract.

"I can only worry about that one year left on my contract. I'm trying not to get my focus on things that don't really matter," he added.

Meanwhile, backup quarterback David Garrard began the new practice season with an attitude that should also be considered healthy.

"I definitely wasn't happy that I didn't assert myself enough last year to stay the starter. I understand the reason for (making Leftwich the starter) and I'm just going to live with it, but I'm still going to compete and try to earn a starting job," Garrard said. "As long as I do my job and work as hard as I can, then I've given myself a chance."

Garrard replaced Leftwich as the team's starting quarterback for the final 11 games of last season. Garrard appeared as though he had taken the job from Leftwich for good, until a disastrous performance in Tennessee began a three-game losing streak to end the season and the Jaguars' playoff hopes.

"I had the opportunity. I could've sealed the deal. If we had two more wins on the board, it could be a different story," Garrard said. "All quarterbacks are going to go through a tough time in their career."

Four players – Bobby McCray, Chris Naeole, Fred Taylor and Donovin Darius – did not attend practice. McCray is expressing discontent with his restricted free agent tender and Naeole is thought to be unhappy about his contract. Taylor did not attend last year's OTA's, which are voluntary. Darius is speaking at the league's rookie symposium.

Marcus Stroud (ankle), Reggie Hayward (Achilles), Rashean Mathis (quad), George Wrighster (shoulder) and Dee Webb (shoulder) were in attendance but did not practice.

Here we go.

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