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Old 01-15-2009, 05:12 PM   #1
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Default Leftwich gives Pittsburgh a proven, reliable backup

Leftwich gives Pittsburgh a proven, reliable backup
By Mike Wilkening
Jan. 14, 2009

We asked a panel of evaluators for their thoughts on the No. 2 quarterbacks for the teams left in the playoffs and to rank them in order of preference. Here’s the list. All respondents participated on the condition of anonymity:
Steelers QB Byron Leftwich

1. Byron Leftwich / Steelers — (2008 stats: 21-of-36 passing, 303 yards, two TDs, no INTs; career starts: 46; NFL experience: six seasons). Judging from our conversations with evaluators around the league, Leftwich is the top backup quarterback left in these playoffs. Signed after Charlie Batch suffered a broken collarbone in August, Leftwich has fit right in with the Steelers. Like starter Ben Roethlisberger, Leftwich comfortably operates out of the shotgun and boasts a strong arm. The feeling is that the Steelers do not lose much with Leftwich in the lineup. “Based on the knowledge of the game, the team in the best shape would be Pittsburgh,” one personnel man said. “Not only has (Leftwich) been a starter, but he can throw the football. He is not Roethlisberger, but their style of play lines up well with his style. It’s not like (Titans QB Kerry) Collins and Vince Young.”

2. Matt Leinart / Cardinals — (2008 stats: 15-of-29 passing, 264 yards, one TD, one INT; career starts: 16; NFL experience: three seasons). Two years ago, Leinart was one of the rising stars at his position after throwing for 2,547 yards in his rookie season. Today, Leinart is viewed quite differently. He largely struggled in five starts in ’07 before suffering a broken collarbone, and he has spent this season as Kurt Warner’s backup. Although the past two seasons haven’t gone the way Leinart planned, there are some who hold out hope that he’ll bounce back. “His best football is still ahead of him,” a panelist said.

3. Troy Smith / Ravens — (2008 stats: 3-of-4 passing, 82 yards, one TD, no INTs; career starts: two; NFL experience: two seasons). Smith was expected to be the Ravens’ starter in 2008, but a tonsil infection sidelined him in August and allowed Joe Flacco to take the starting job. Factors working in Smith’s favor: The playoff stage is unlikely to intimidate him; he made big plays in front of big crowds at Ohio State. He’s mobile, and he has a fairly strong arm. Also, his grasp of Cam Cameron’s offense was strong enough to have had the starting job all but locked up before his illness. However, he has not played much this season, so rust could be a factor. “He’s a good football player,” one respondent said. “He’s a good athlete. He can do some things with his feet. I think they would be in good hands with him.” However, another panelist was skeptical of the Ravens’ ability to use a full playbook with Smith in the lineup. “He’s going to come in and do ‘Wildcat’ packages,” the evaluator said.

4. Kevin Kolb / Eagles — (2008 stats: 17-of-34 passing, 144 yards, no TDs, four INTs; career starts: zero; NFL experience: two seasons). Kolb, drafted in the second round of the 2007 draft, is widely assumed to be Donovan McNabb’s eventual successor. And the timetable for Kolb’s ascension seemed to accelerate when head coach Andy Reid pulled McNabb at halftime of the Eagles’ Week 12 loss to Baltimore. But Kolb struggled mightily in his only extended playing time, and McNabb was back in the starting lineup four days later when Philadelphia hosted Arizona on Thanksgiving Day. McNabb and the Eagles rolled to victory, earned the final NFC playoff spot and are now one game away from the Super Bowl — and you would be hard-pressed to find anyone advocating a QB change at this point. “When he did get an opportunity to play, he struggled,” a panelist said.
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