Leftwich in love with football

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He's new and improved in a few important ways, but in most others he's the same old Byron Leftwich, full of verve for the game he loves too much to deny.

"This is such a violent sport, you never know when it's going to be taken away from you," Leftwich told reporters on Tuesday, following a morning when coach Jack Del Rio canceled practice and treated his team to its traditional team movie. This year's offering is "300."

Leftwich had football taken away from him each of the last two seasons, dating back to a broken ankle he sustained in week 12 of the 2005 season. The residual effect of that ankle injury resulted in season-ending surgery after six games last year. The final tally shows that Leftwich has missed 16 of the Jaguars' last 22 games.

Given those numbers, it was no small event last Saturday when Miami defensive tackle Vonnie Holliday slammed into Leftwich with a vicious helmet-to-helmet contact that toppled Leftwich backward. It was a most violent moment and followed two earlier sacks.

How did Leftwich react to Holliday's hit, which was flagged for roughing the passer? He led his team on a long touchdown drive, capping it with a one-yard scoring lob to wide receiver Dennis Northcutt.

"Out of nowhere, there he was. It was my first big one in a long time," Leftwich said of Holliday's hit, "so I got that one out of the way."

Leftwich passed all of his tests in Saturday's preseason-opener. Now he's ready for the second test of the preseason, in front of a home crowd that has often booed Leftwich.

"The next step for me and the offense is to continue executing," he said of this Saturday's game against visiting Tampa Bay. "You want to get better from last week."

Leftwich's playing time will increase this Saturday and he'll likely be replaced by David Garrard. The two quarterbacks have become a show unto themselves; maybe even a bigger show than the Jaguars as a whole.

In a town that loves to debate Leftwich vs. Garrard, the climate is so controversial that most would say it makes success an even more difficult pursuit. Leftwich, however, shrugs off such talk.

"It's an environment we created ourselves. It's an environment from the past," he said, referring to the switch at quarterback from himself to Garrard last October. "It leaves the door open for these types of environments. They don't really affect the success we have as a football team.

"You can't control that," he added. "What you can control is going out there and playing the best football you can play."

Some would say he is playing the best football he can play right now. Leftwich is energized by the presence of new offensive coordinator Dirk Koetter and he is motivated by his return to health and to the role of starting quarterback.

"I understand that football is my life. Those times when I wasn't able to play football, I realized I didn't have a life outside football. Besides my family, the only thing I love to do is play football," Leftwich said.

He's an eternal optimist. Johnny Unitas would scold his linemen for not protecting him. Leftwich told his linemen last Saturday to shake it off.

"The last thing you want is for these guys to start to panic. I wanted to make sure they didn't feel so responsible that they didn't understand the process of the preseason. That's football," Leftwich said of the sacks. "I've never seen a quarterback who didn't get sacked."

He likes the linemen who protect him and he likes the receivers who catch his passes. "I think they're the most talented I've had since I've been here," he said of the Jaguars' wide receiving corps.

The rest is a matter of repetition. The more games he plays without injury, the sooner he'll get back to the level of performance he had reached when he first injured his ankle in Arizona two years ago.

"I'll be playing 10 years from now," Leftwich said.

Does he ever peek at the pass-rush?

"The second I do that is the second I give it up," he said.

Some things about Leftwich haven't changed.

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