Byron Leftwich hears the barbs. He knows there are those who want him out as the Jaguars quarterback. Leftwich also knows that to be a successful starting quarterback he has to remain unaffected by criticism.
"People gotta talk about something. You got some people who are going to back you and some who won't. They gotta find something wrong. We went 12-4 and I'll take that every year. All you gotta do is get there (the playoffs). Pittsburgh showed that last year," Leftwich said.
"They call me slow but I can name 15 quarterbacks I'm faster than. You hear it so much it doesn't bother you. It would bother me if I was really out there struggling. If you can lead team to 12-4, from where we were in my rookie year? I am what I am," Leftwich said in what may be the Jaguars quarterback's most in-depth remarks about fan criticism.
Leftwich made his remarks to jaguars.com on Wednesday following an offseason conditioning workout. The Jaguars began their offseason program on April 10.
"They call me fat. Well, I'm no model. If people can't respect how hard I work at this, you can't get disappointed. I know how much I want to win and the pride I take in football. I could see it if I was struggling. If I was playing bad I'd probably feel like them," Leftwich said.
In his third pro season last year, Leftwich was the NFL's ninth-ranked passer with an 89.3 passer rating. His season, however, was cut short in week 12 when he sustained a broken ankle that ended his regular season. Leftwich was playing the best football of his career when the injury occurred.
He returned for the Jaguars' playoff game in New England, which the Jaguars lost 28-3. The defeat caused a firestorm of opinion that David Garrard, who guided the Jaguars to five wins in their final six games, should've remained the starter for the playoff game.
"Look at that game in New England. Not a lot of guys have been in that situation before," Leftwich said, referring to the fact the Jaguars were not a playoff-tested team. "The more you're in those situations the better you react to them."
It was, of course, Leftwich's first postseason action. He is, however, a veteran of the regular season, having made 38 starts in three years. He's 21-17 in those starts, the 21 wins ranking fourth in the first three seasons or fewer of quarterbacks drafted since 1997. Peyton Manning was 26-22 in his first three years, Donovan McNabb was 24-14 in his three seasons and Ben Roethlisberger is 22-3 through his first two campaigns.
So what's ahead in 2006 for the Jaguars and the seventh pick of the 2003 draft?
"I don't think we need a lot. I think we just need this offseason to fine-tune things. All the teams that have success on offense have the same system and the same guys. Just having this offseason to understand our system will give us a better chance of being successful. People want it to happen in one year but it doesn't," Leftwich said.
"People don't realize that was our first year with that offense. We won 12 games in a first-year system. We improved so much in the red zone and on third down. Now it's time to get better on first down. We have to make positive plays," Leftwich added.
The Jaguars offense in 2005 made gains in 10 of the 17 major statistical categories. The most major gain occurred in the points per game category; from 29th to 12th, though defense accounted for two touchdowns and special teams accounted for one.
"I think we have more talent offensively than a lot of teams do. I think we have the players to be in the top five offensively," Leftwich said.
The Jaguars finished tied with Pittsburgh for 15th place in total offense last season; the Jags were 19th in passing. At the league's owners meetings in Orlando a few weeks ago, coach Jack Del Rio announced that the team's goal this season is to win in the playoffs.
"I know that," Leftwich said.