Jags' Leftwich returns, hopes to stay healthy Print
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Tuesday, 08 May 2007 22:27
NFL Headline News

 JACKSONVILLE, Fla. (AP) -Byron Leftwich practiced with the Jacksonville Jaguars for the first time in nearly seven months Tuesday.
It had been nearly as long since he spoke publicly.
So there was plenty to ask the hard-throwing, oft-injured quarterback:
- Can he stay healthy?
- Does he want to remain in Jacksonville beyond 2007, the final year of his contract?
- What was his reaction to being made the starter by coach Jack Del Rio?
- Why did he skip offseason conditioning drills to work out in South Florida?
- What does he expect from the new offense?
- Did he think the Jags were going to draft Brady Quinn?
- And what about his relationship with Del Rio?
Leftwich said everything the Jaguars wanted to hear.
The most important part?
``I am totally recovered, no pain or anything with the ankle,'' he said after the first day of a three-day passing camp.
Leftwich missed 15 games the last two seasons because of an injured left ankle. He had surgery last November, more than a month after Del Rio benched him in favor of David Garrard.
Del Rio made Leftwich the starter in February, hoping to avoid months of speculation heading into training camp. Leftwich, who expected to return to his starting role when healthy, would like to play every game for the first time in his career.
``The worst thing that can happen is to have something happen to me and then boom, they'll say, `That guy is a bum. He can't do anything,''' Leftwich said. ``I know if I'm on that field, people will stop questioning my ability to play the game of football. So I'm going to worry about what I need to do, and what I need to do is make sure I'm out there on that field.''
If that happens, Leftwich believes the Jaguars will be back in the playoffs and he'll be able to sign a long-term contract.
``I would love that, but that's not my decision,'' Leftwich said.
He added that the club hasn't approached him about a contract extension.
``Why would they talk to me about extensions when I can't stay out on the field? If you look at it that way, it wouldn't be smart on their part,'' he said. ``I know there's a year on my contract, so what I'm going to do is I'm going to focus on this year and everything else will take care of itself. My whole focus is about nothing else but being on that field and making sure I play 16 games. If I do that, we will be successful like we should be.''
Still, many wonder whether the Jags can be successful given the relationship between Leftwich and Del Rio. The coach felt Leftwich wasn't completely honest about the severity of his ankle injury, and Leftwich disagreed with his benching.
So is there a rift? And can it be repaired?
``When you look at the big picture of what we are trying to accomplish here in winning football games, does it really matter?'' Leftwich said. ``I don't think it really matters. ... I don't call Jack and say, `Hey man, meet me at the bar and let's have a drink.'
``I don't do that because we're not that close. But at the same time, I respect him as a head coach and I'm quite sure he respects me as a player. Everybody wants to get into this thing because everybody wants to see how I feel about that, and I feel the same way I always felt about it. I don't want to make it a distraction.''
Del Rio downplayed Leftwich's return, saying the most important thing Tuesday was to work on conditioning, fundamentals and learning a new offense.
``I don't get too caught up in all of that,'' Del Rio said. ``There's been a lot of drama, a lot of talk, a lot of hype about him and about that position.''
Del Rio hinted after last month's draft that he wanted to select Quinn in the first round, but the team couldn't reach a consensus on the Notre Dame quarterback. The Jags instead picked Florida safety Reggie Nelson, filling a glaring need in the secondary.
Leftwich was watching the draft when it was time for Jacksonville's pick, and he knew Quinn was on the board.
``I said, `Oh, shucks. This is going to get crazy,''' Leftwich said. ``If they had made that decision, they would have made that decision and there was nothing I could do about that. That's why I wasn't worried about what I could (not) control.''
Leftwich is trying to control his health. He spent most of the offseason working out at Perfect Competition in South Florida - the same place running back Fred Taylor trained before last year - and is down to 247 pounds.
He wanted to get back into the same condition he was when he was the seventh overall pick in 2003. Leftwich hopes being in top shape, playing in offensive Dirk Koetter's new system and having a healthy ankle will make all the difference.
``I'm just so tired of the negative stuff that goes on,'' Leftwich said. ``I just want to play some football and have a great year and win some football games and see what happens from there.''

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