Del Rio hands reins to rookie
In a move that's less surprising than symbolic of a passing of the torch in Jacksonville, head coach Jack Del Rio announced Wednesday afternoon that rookie Byron Leftwich has now secured the starting quarterback job.
Del Rio apprised former starter Mark Brunell of the permanent change via a phone call on Tuesday, the players' day off, then confirmed the move to the media at Wednesday's practice. Brunell, the Jaguars' starter for the previous eight seasons and the first three games of '03, will serve as No. 2 quarterback when his left elbow has completely healed.
Brunell injured the elbow in a Sept. 21 loss at Indianapolis and required five stitches to close an open wound. He has not played since. The elbow injury provided management and the coaching staff the excuse to elevate Leftwich to the top of the depth chart.
The first-round draft choice, and the seventh player selected overall in the 2003 draft, Leftwich has started the past two games. Barring injury, he figures to start the remainder of the season for the 1-4 Jaguars, who face the Miami Dolphins on Sunday.
"I feel like it was the right thing to do," Del Rio said of the switch.
Del Rio reiterated that he made it very clear to Brunell that the job he occupied for so many standout seasons now belongs to the former Marshall star.
Leftwich has completed 47 of 77 passes for 691 yards, with five touchdown passes and three interceptions, for a passer rating of 95.8. Brunell has 54 completions in 82 attempts, for 484 yards, two touchdowns, no interceptions and a rating of 89.7.
Brunell insisted on Wednesday, following practice, that he will not ask the Jaguars to trade or release him. There have been reports that Brunell would consider a trade if the financial conditions were favorable. The league trading deadline is next Tuesday and it is not believed Jacksonville has received any overtures from teams seeking to add Brunell.
"If called upon, I'll be ready to roll," Brunell said. "There has to be a team interested in you (for a trade to occur). To my knowledge, that hasn't happened. I'm not going to ask to be released. I'm not going to go out like that. There's a chance the team may need me. You handle this like a team player, a professional."
The 11th-year veteran, acquired by the Jaguars in a 1995 trade with Green Bay, said that Leftwich had "a good game" in last Sunday's victory over San Diego, the first win of the season for the Jaguars, who are now officially in the rebuilding mode. Said Brunell: "You don't fix what's not broken. If this was week to week, I doubt (Del Rio) would have called me at home to tell me (that Leftwich is the starter)."
The Jaguars also made a number of roster moves on Wednesday, releasing linebacker Eric Westmoreland and safety Brad Franklin, and signing cornerbacks Chris Brown and Blue Adams from their practice squad.