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Leftwich makes it new era


Now, it is truly a new era in Jaguars football.

That's the statement the Jaguars made with their selection of Marshall quarterback Byron Leftwich in the first round of today's NFL Draft. It was supposed to be the eighth pick of the draft; fortunately for the Jaguars, Minnesota and Baltimore did not execute a trade before the Vikings' time expired and the Jaguars vaulted into the Vikings' seven spot. Had that trade been consummated, Leftwich would probably be headed to Baltimore.

"We acquired a very talented player today; extremely productive in his college career," head coach Jack Del Rio said following the selection.

Of course, the immediate question was about the future of Mark Brunell in Jacksonville. Brunell, the Jaguars' starting quarterback since the franchise's inaugural season, has two years remaining on his contract, but his $6.75 million salary this season certainly gives rise to suspicion Brunell will be traded or released.

"The future of Mark Brunell; that'll be a popular topic," Del Rio said. "We feel like we have three great quarterbacks. We have three guys who can really play and we're excited about it."

Del Rio was suggesting Brunell will be retained, but most expect the position to be turned over to second-year man David Garrard and Leftwich.

"We talked about not being able to pass on a great player of value," Del Rio added of the selection of Leftwich, who described himself as a football fan, and he proved that fact to reporters with his knowledge of Jaguars history. "I remember that run by Mark (Brunell) against Denver in that playoff game," Leftwich said.

Knowing the Jaguars were interested in Leftwich, most believe the Ravens had targeted the trade with Minnesota so as to get one pick ahead of the Jaguars.

"We're friendly with the people in Baltimore. There was discussion they were trying to jump us," Del Rio said.

Baltimore and Minnesota agreed to a deal with 32 seconds remaining on the Vikings' selection clock. The deal would've given the Ravens the seventh pick of the draft in exchange for the Ravens' pick at 10. The Ravens would've also given the Vikings fourth and sixth-round picks.

The Jaguars were also involved in trade discussions with the Vikings, but the Jaguars offered only a fifth-round pick to switch first-round selections with the Vikings.

Jaguars personnel boss, James "Shack" Harris, confirmed Leftwich was the Jaguars' pick from the day's start. "This is the guy we were targeting," Harris said.

Leftwich met with the media at Alltel Stadium the evening of the first day of the draft and Leftwich told reporters Jacksonville was where he wanted to play.

"I told my agent a week ago that I'd sure like to play in Jacksonville. After I met with coach Del Rio and 'Shack' Harris I felt like I was wanted here," Leftwich said.

When the Vikings' time expired, Leftwich's phone rang and he saw on his caller ID that it was the Jaguars calling. "I said this got to be it because they weren't calling to say they weren't going to take me," Leftwich said. "This was the place I wanted to be."

Leftwich's agent is Tom Condon. "I told my agent I want to be in camp. Hey, get me in camp," Leftwich said, referring to contract negotiations.

The second quarterback selected in this draft, Leftwich will forever be remembered for being carried downfield by two offensive linemen following a long completion against Akron. "They carried me because I broke my leg. But you can get those general managers knowing what you will do. I'm healthy now and I'm ready to help the Jacksonville Jaguars," Leftwich said.

Leftwich suffered a broken bone in the same leg he suffered a previous injury that required a rod and screws to repair. But the Jaguars' medical staff has given Leftwich a clean bill of health.

The next greatest concern about Leftwich is that he played in an offense that had him in shotgun formation most of the time. That caused suspicion Leftwich may not have drop-back ability. Leftwich said his personal workout was intended to dispel the myth that he can't play in a drop-back offense.

He described his height and weight as 6-6, 242, and when asked what his reaction would be if he was the Jaguars' starting quarterback on opening day, Leftwich said, "I'd love it. I'll be prepared. I want to play. You don't have to stink it up just because you're a rookie."

When the Jaguars selected, Arizona State defensive end Terrell Suggs was available and, clearly, Suggs would've addressed a position of great need. But Del Rio and Harris have steadfastly maintained a belief in drafting the best available player, instead addressing positions of need.

Harris said the Jaguars did not use their allotted 15 minutes of decision time and allow for trade discussion with other teams because "we were trying to beat Minnesota; we were trying to get the card in before they picked." That's how targeted Leftwich was.

"He's extremely tough. We saw him in many games in which he had to come from behind in the fourth quarter. We took this pick because the player was too good to pass," Harris added.

Del Rio would not address Leftwich's immediate future. "To give you a timetable would be irresponsible on my part. The best players are going to play," Del Rio said.

Minnesota's and Baltimore's inability to do the deal before the clock expired is easily the number one controversy of the first round of the draft. Will it be the stroke of luck that will make this new era in Jaguars football a winner? Or will the Jaguars look back on this day and wish the Vikings and Ravens had been a little quicker on the trigger?

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