Inside the locker room: Byron Leftwich

November 14, 2012 by Teresa Varley

Are you excited to get back out there?
Yeah, to be honest with you, I am. It’s exciting to get an opportunity to go out there with the Mike Wallaces of the world, the Emmanuel Sanders, the Heath Millers, to have an opportunity to get the ball to these guys. Just to play with this caliber of team gives me comfort, understanding who I’m going out there with. This isn’t the “Bad News Bears.” That gives me comfort with the playmakers we have around me. We’ll see Sunday night.

Re: Having time to prepare knowing that you are starting:
It’s always better when you can prepare, especially when you’re the backup because you never get any reps. To have the opportunity during the week to prepare will help. We understand we have a tough opponent coming in here Sunday night. We respect those guys. They’re going to come in here ready to play. We’ve got to make sure we’re ready to play and we’ll see what happens.

Are practice and timing the keys to your success?
I don’t know. We’re just trying to score one more point than those guys. That’s all that really matters. We’re in that same process every week no matter who we play. We’re just trying to win the football game and we’re going to do our best job to do that.

Do you expect this offense to be any different than when Ben Roethlisberger is running it?
No. It won’t be different. We came in. We saw the game plan. We might do things different, because let’s just be honest, I’m not going to run around and make two or three guys miss, then roll all the way to the left and find Mike Wallace in the back of the endzone. I’m not capable of doing that. But what I can do is get the ball in the right guy’s hands and just be myself. They’re not asking me to do anything but be myself and that’s what I’ll do.

Re: Suggestions that this offense doesn’t play to your strengths like arm strength:
Honestly, arm strength really only comes into play when you’re throwing the ball down the field. If it’s “dink and dunk,” whatever we want to call it, my job is to hit the guy with the ball that’s open. I don’t care if it’s five yards down the field or 25 yards down the field. People are entitled to their opinion. I understand that in this situation nobody is probably giving us a shot and that’s understandable. Any time you lose a quarterback like Ben, let’s be honest, I think he was playing on an MVP level. I think he’s an elite quarterback in this league and he’s down. We all understand that. We all understand everybody’s opinion and how they feel about the situation. But we’re going to have to play the game Sunday night and we’ll see what happens. There’s no need for me to think about what-ifs. The game is going to be Sunday night and somebody is going to win it. I’m just trying to do my part to make sure it’s us.

Are they going to give you more deep passes down the field?
We’ll have to see.

How do you get good at making the right reads on plays like Roethlisberger has when you don’t get reps and practice?
Because that’s what I’ve got to do. I’ve got to be able see 22 guys on the field at the same time and that’s what I’ve always been able to do my whole life, see the field and get the ball to the right guy. They’re not asking me to do anything special. I know this is a big game. It’s a big game for both teams but I don’t have to go out there and try to do anything special. I just have to go out there and do my job and be myself. Is that good enough? We’ll have to see.

Will you spend extra time working on things in practice and will it be different for you?
We’ll do what we have to do. Practice will be different because this is the first time I’m throwing to Mike [Wallace] and Emmanuel [Sanders], so practice will be real different. But nobody has to do anything special. It’s still football. My job is still to get the ball to the open guys, read defenses, make the right decisions and that’s not going to change for any quarterback in this league. I don’t care who’s playing. You have to do all those things from the quarterback position. We’ll see what happens on Sunday night.

Have you been in contact with Roethlisberger?
Yes. Ben was in meetings today. We talked a lot today. I talked to him on the phone the night of. I talked to him on Monday, I talked to him on Tuesday, I talked to him today and he’s in a little pain. But we’re just talking football. It’s my job to do my part to help this football team out and from that point, we talk about football. We don’t talk about the injury too much because I’ve been in those situations before and I know it’s frustrating missing football games. But my job is to get ready and he’s helping me in that process and we’ll see what happens Sunday night.

Do you feel like a rookie again with excitement and anticipation?
No, I don’t feel like I’m a rookie. [Laughs] I’m 32 years old. I wish I felt like a rookie but I was jokingly saying that because I joke with Ben all the time. I don’t miss this part of playing quarterback in the National Football League. I tell him all the time I don’t miss the conference calls, all the interviews and all the media. I tell him all the time. I don’t really miss that part of it. It’s not a situation where I feel like a rookie, though. I’ve got eight cameras in front of me and that hasn’t happened in a while.

Do you know how long you will be filling-in for Roethlisberger?
No, no I don’t. I’ll be ready. I’ll take it on a week-to-week basis. I know Ben’s a tough guy. I’m not even going to think about that right now. All I’ve got on my mind is Sunday night.

Do you feel like having a long wind-up compromises your ability to get rid of the ball quickly in this offense?
No I don’t. I normally defend myself in this process and defend myself by throwing out a bunch of numbers. But I’ll save that for the offseason. I’m throwing the ball the way I’ve thrown the ball my whole life. I’ve played 10 years in this league and to play this long in this league, they’re not going to just let guys that can’t play sit there. I don’t think about none of that stuff. I don’t think about, “his mobility,” or “his wind-up,” or “he can’t do this, he can’t do that.” I try to worry about the things I can do.

So you’ve heard about that long release before?
I heard about that before I even became a pro. I heard about that when I was at Marshall. When you hear all the bad things about yourself, pretty much from the last college game to the draft you hear it all, so I’ve heard it all. Yeah, I’ve got the long wind-up. I’m not the fastest guy in the world, but I believe I can play a little bit. We’ll just see Sunday night. I don’t have to put any pressure on myself to go out there and do something different, do something special. I’m just telling myself to just go out there and play the way that I play and we’ll see if we can win the football game.

When you watched the tape of Monday night’s game, what were you happy with and what needs to change?
The first few plays, I felt like everybody was moving faster than me. [Laughs] Maybe that is because I’m slower than everybody but it was a situation when you aren’t out there, let’s just be honest, it takes a little time for it to get back. I was just glad that I was able to see the field the way I was able to, complete some balls on third downs when my number was called to convert some things. I just went out there and did my job. I sat there and looked at it and critiqued myself to try and make myself better for Sunday night.

Coach Mike Tomlin described every opponent as “nameless,, grey faces.” Does that apply to Baltimore, especially when the Steelers are 0-4 against Baltimore without Roethlisberger?
Yeah, it is. He says that every week. That hasn’t changed. That’s what he believes in. That’s what we believe in. We’ve tried not to make it about anybody else. We try to do our part and execute well. We feel as though if we go out there and execute well, we can have success against anybody and we’ve just got to do what we’ve got to do to make sure we can be successful Sunday night.

Did you ever try to throw it a different way or did anyone ever make a compelling case for you to change?
No, that’s the crazy thing. All the guys that have been around me, that have coached me, told me to throw the football the way I throw the football as long as I throw it the way I’m throwing it. Nobody has ever changed my motion. You have to think, I’m a guy from a high school that had one coach. I wasn’t really fit in the pedigree. I’m a D.C. guy, an inner city guy who grew up with no coaches, just throwing rocks or anything I could pick up.

Did you go to any quarterback camps in high school?
No, I didn’t do all that. I throw the way I throw. There’s nothing I could do about it right now. There was nothing they told me to do about it when I was 23, 25, 27, 29. Yeah, I’ve got the long wind-up. You look at every guy around the league, we all do things differently. The key is can we go out there and get the job done? That’s all I’m worried about.

You’ve had some success. Do you ever wonder why people don’t do it your way?
[Laughs] No. I just do what I do. Let them say what they’ve got to say.

Is this a pretty good situation for you to step into?
Oh yeah. This isn’t a bad situation to be in and that’s my point. We have a quarterback who’s been to the Super Bowl three times in nine years. That goes to tell you how good he is as a quarterback. I’m not going to go out there and try to be Ben. We see the game differently, in ways that he’s physically able to do certain things I can’t do. So, he sees it a little different. That doesn’t mean I can’t go out there and do my job. We understand that everybody is like, “Hey man, they’ve got a backup quarterback Sunday night playing the Baltimore Ravens.” We understand that nobody is really giving us a shot and that’s okay. We’re not trying to say that to say it’s us against the world. It’s just we understand guys have got jobs to do and they have opinions. But we try not to worry about those opinions. We try to worry about what we have to worry about to go out there and get ourselves ready.

Did you feel like you would be able to fit in Todd Haley’s offense when it was being installed?
I never cared about what kind of offense it was because football is football. I’ve been around enough offenses to know that I’ve had some of the same plays in every offense, no matter who is calling it. They just call it differently. I don’t view it that way. I don’t care what type of offense it is. The quarterbacks job is to execute the plays that are called, get the ball to the right guys, get the team in the right play, and that’s what I’ll try to do.

Does the offense seem like it is sluggish without WR Antonio Brown?
That’s a special guy. Let’s just be honest, when he’s on the field it’s special and defenses have to defend him. You have to defend Antonio Brown when he’s on the football field. When you put him with Mike Wallace and Emmanuel Sanders and Jerricho Cotchery, it makes it tough on defensive coordinators and defenses. Any time you miss a guy like that that is that exceptional, that special, it hurts. It hurts anybody, no matter who’s at quarterback. We’ll see.

You are 1-1 against Baltimore. Do you remember either game?
Yes, I do. I actually do. I remember playing Baltimore and we lost my rookie year. Then they came to Jacksonville and we got them.

Coming out of the draft, did you ever wonder what would happen if the Ravens had drafted you after they expressed so much interest in you?
I thought that’s where I would be. I remember conversations with Ozzie [Newsom] and that’s where I thought I would be. I think they thought that’s where I would be. Minnesota found out and it didn’t turn out that way. With the Minnesota thing going down, I thought I would be the seventh pick to the Baltimore Ravens.

Where the Ravens a favorite team of yours?
No. With all the meetings that I had I knew where I would be drafted at. By the talks that you have with people before the draft, I knew I would be the seventh pick. I didn’t know what team because I knew that seventh pick was going to get traded by Minnesota. I knew something would go down with that pick between Baltimore, Carolina and Jacksonville. It was Jacksonville who took me.

Re: Your fire, your competitiveness and people saying the Steelers don’t have a chance:
It is what it is. I allow the experts to be experts. I’m not the type of guy that gets mad because somebody said something. Everybody is entitled to their opinion. People are going to say what they want to say, regardless of if they have information or details of information. They’re just going to say what they want. That’s where we’re at now in 2012. I respect that part of it. Say what you want. It has nothing to do with how we play Sunday night. I’m getting too old to worry about those things. I try to worry about the things that matter and the things that matter are me executing and doing the right thing for this team.

Is there an advantage in the fact that you haven’t played in a while and there isn’t a lot of film on you in the past few seasons?
I think everybody knows what I am. I’m a pocket passer who throws the ball from the pocket like 60-70% of the rest of the guys. You don’t have to be fast. I don’t have to run around to play. In that case, we wouldn’t call the Tom Bradys of the world elite, the Eli Mannings of the world. I’ve got to be faster than Eli. [Laughs] Guys are going to say things about you. That’s part of playing in this league. You’re going to get critiqued. The good and the bad, you’ve got to be willing to accept it. I’m willing to accept that and Sunday we’ll see. We’ve got to play the game Sunday night and it’s going to come down to who makes the most plays Sunday night, regardless of what was said on Wednesday or what people believe. Hey man, we’re going to find out Sunday night.


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