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Defending his turf

Svelte Leftwich reflects on discord with Jags, Del Rio

Posted: Saturday May 19, 2007 11:46PM; Updated: Saturday May 19, 2007 11:46PM
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Byron Leftwich tried to keep a low profile this off-season, often deferring comment about his status as the Jaguars' starting QB.
Byron Leftwich tried to keep a low profile this off-season, often deferring comment about his status as the Jaguars' starting QB.

GRAND CAYMAN, Cayman Islands -- Miles of clear blue sea surround Byron Leftwich as he sits on the waterfront patio of the The Wharf Restaurant in Grand Cayman. Yet despite the humid temperatures, he doesn't feel the slightest urge to jump in as he looks down at the tropical fish meandering around in the ocean.

"I'm scared of the water," he says. "I'm a 3 to 4 feet guy; that's my territory. The water here is so clear you can see what's in there, but I'm still scared. I just don't trust what's in there. As human beings, you're in there territory. You see how bad we treat fish when people go out fishing. You think they don't remember that stuff? They're not stupid. They remember."

At the moment, Leftwich is trying not to remember the nightmare that was last season as he sits in this veritable oasis -- but it's impossible. Everything he's done for the past seven months has centered on avoiding a repeat of the most frustrating season of his four-year career.

Leftwich still vividly remembers the high he felt after leading the Jaguars to nationally televised wins over the Cowboys and Steelers to begin the season. They were the talk of the NFL and Leftwich had finally overcome a left ankle injury that had sidelined him for five games in 2005 and was beginning to come into his own. Yet just as his dream season was beginning to unfold, it came to a painfully sudden stop when Leftwich reinjured his ankle against the Redskins in Week 4. Although he ignored the injury at first, two weeks later, he could barely walk on it, putting an end to his season and the Jaguars' post-season aspirations.

"I was riding high, and then I woke up the day before the Houston game, and I couldn't walk," says Leftwich, who is here for the NFL Quarterback Challenge. "It was a situation where I tried to push the ankle harder and harder (until) it finally gave up on me."

At the time, Leftwich also felt that his coach Jack Del Rio gave up on him when he named David Garrard the starter and told Leftwich he couldn't play until his ankle healed. While the two have mended their relationship somewhat, Leftwich says he doesn't plan on sharing a beer with Del Rio anytime soon.

"I don't hate the man. He knew I was hurt and he wouldn't allow me to play, and that's what it came down to," says Leftwich, who has missed 15 games the last two seasons. "I felt that I could still help the team, and he felt that I was too injured to help the team and that's all it really was. We're not close, but I know that he knows that I give us the best chance to win when we're out there. For us to go from 12-4 to 8-8, that's something that none of us wanted to go through; and that's something we're going to try to avoid this year."

Leftwich has been trying to avoid a repeat of the past two seasons by putting himself through a stringent off-season conditioning program at Perfect Competition, a personalized training facility in Davie, Fla. frequented by many NFL players, since the season ended in January.

"I started early this year and I just wanted to focus on taking better care of my body," says Leftwich, who's dropped about 25 pounds since last season. "Really focus on the ankle that had bothered me the past two years and get it in the best shape that it can possibly be in; and I think I've done that. So now that my body's in shape, it's time to focus more on football."


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