Sunday, April 27, 2003

Jags get Lefwtich, QB controversy

By Eddie Pells
The Associated Press

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. - When the Jacksonville Jaguars drafted Byron Leftwich, nobody was happier about it than Wayne Weaver.

"We've solved our quarterback position for the next 10 years," the team owner gushed.

The next 10 months, though? They could get a little dicey.

Coming soon in Jacksonville: The Great Quarterback Debate.

The stars: Leftwich, the Marshall quarterback picked seventh by the Jaguars in the draft Saturday; David Garrard, a fourth-round pick last year who was supposed to be the quarterback of the future and Mark Brunell, an 11th-year veteran who has always hoped to finish his career in Jacksonville.

Naturally, the Jaguars - under new management this year - are spinning this as a success story with no downside.

"Mark Brunell is under contract," first-year coach Jack Del Rio said. "We like Mark Brunell. We like David. We like all our quarterbacks. We're in an envious situation. Most teams are lucky to have one or two quarterbacks. We have three who can play."

Quite often, of course, that spells trouble.

Brunell has already made his feelings known. Earlier this month, he was working on a contract extension, only to see negotiations stall. He was in California on Saturday and not available for comment.

"My thing is, we've had three losing seasons," Brunell said earlier in the week. "I'd hope you'd pick somebody with the team's best interests in mind to help the Jaguars win in 2003. There's no waiting around."

The Jaguars still have the option of cutting Brunell without major salary cap consequences. He has two years left on his current deal. If they keep him, it would presumably be as a starter who would tutor Leftwich.

Del Rio wouldn't confirm any timetables.

"That would be irresponsible," he said. "We want competition at all positions. The best player is going to play. The best backup is going to back up."

The deal almost didn't happen. Had the Ravens and Vikings put the finishing touches on a trade, Baltimore would have moved into the seventh spot and likely chosen Leftwich. As things wound up, Baltimore didn't report its side of the trade quickly enough, Minnesota's 15-minute time limit ran out and Jaguars video coordinator Mike Perkins rushed to the podium with Leftwich's name.

"It's all a poker game," Jaguars personnel executive James Harris said. "We were all just playing poker."

For his part, Leftwich said he was thrilled the Jaguars picked him and will be ready for whatever role the Jaguars give him - even if it's as the starter.

"I'd love it," he said. "I'll be prepared to go out there. That's one of the things that's given me success. I'm pretty good at knowing how to prepare myself."

The selection of Leftwich signified a change in Jacksonville's draft strategy.

When Tom Coughlin was coach, the Jaguars often passed up higher-ranked players to pick those who would fill a specific need. That resulted in the selection of receiver R. Jay Soward, a huge first-round bust, and what many people felt were reaches when they chose defensive tackles Marcus Stroud and John Henderson in the top 10 the last two years.

Of course, another thing that never came about in the Coughlin era was a full-fledged quarterback controversy. Since Brunell took over the job for good late in the 1995 expansion season, Coughlin drafted Jonathan Quinn and Garrard as developmental guys, but never made an overt move to replace Brunell. It was an anomaly considering the tense relationship between player and coach.

A month ago, Brunell felt like he had a new start with Coughlin out. For the first time in recent memory, he attended all the offseason workouts. He spent extra time in the film room learning the West Coast Offense with new offensive coordinator Bill Musgrave. He generally felt better about the atmosphere at Alltel Stadium than he ever had.

Now, he almost certainly knows who will replace him here; only the timing is in doubt.

And even though they still have holes at receiver and offensive line, the Jaguars had no regrets.

"We looked at him as an elite player," Harris said. "We took the player because he was just too good to pass up."

Harris said he felt the same about their second-round pick, safety Rashean Mathis of Bethune-Cookman. Harris said Mathis was not only the best player left on Jacksonville's draft board, but he also fills a specific need in a thin defensive backfield.

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