Jags' Del Rio declares Leftwich his starter for 2007

Updated: February 22, 2007, 6:32 PM ET
By Len Pasquarelli | ESPN.com

INDIANAPOLIS -- There is snow on the ground here, and NFL training camps won't open for more than five months, but Jacksonville Jaguars coach Jack Del Rio used the start of the NFL's scouting combine Thursday to announce his starting quarterback for 2007.

Byron Leftwich
Leftwich

And the name at the top of the depth chart is four-year veteran Byron Leftwich, who finished last season on injured reserve and rehabilitating from ankle surgery, and whose future with the Jaguars was thought to be tenuous at best.

"Yeah, he's it," Del Rio said late Thursday afternoon. "There isn't going to be any kind of open competition in training camp. Byron will go to camp No. 1 and we expect him to be the starter. As an organization, we've evaluated it from every angle and we feel that it's the best thing for us."

Del Rio earlier in the day made similar pronouncements to the team-operated Web site and to the Florida Times-Union.

The announcement should end speculation that Leftwich, the Jaguars' first-round choice in the 2003 draft and essentially the face of the franchise until the left ankle injury forced him to the sideline for the final 10 games of the 2006 season, had played his final snap for the club. That said, things could still be very interesting on the Jacksonville quarterback front, especially given Leftwich's contract status and the desire of David Garrard, who finished last year in the lineup, to be a starter somewhere in the league.

Leftwich, 27, is entering the final season of his original rookie contract and is due a base salary of $5.2 million for 2007. There have been no substantive discussions regarding an extension, but the track record of agent Tom Condon suggests he will want to address that issue with Jacksonville officials.

Condon has rarely permitted a high-profile client such as Leftwich to enter a lame-duck season on his contract. Neither Leftwich nor Condon could be reached for comment. Garrard was 5-5 as the starter after replacing Leftwich, and is regarded as a player who could start full time for a number of teams in the league.

Del Rio said he "definitely expects" Garrard and No. 3 quarterback Quinn Gray to return in 2007 and emphasized the Jaguars feel comfortable with the quarterback depth chart and will not attempt to add to it. He also conceded that he had not handled the Leftwich situation as well as he could have, but said every offseason evaluation meeting that Jacksonville officials conducted pointed to the former Marshall star as the starter.

"It's just the best way to go," Del Rio said, "and letting people know where they stand now is the best way to do it."

Del Rio said that Leftwich, with whom he met after the Super Bowl, has been apprised of the situation. Leftwich also met recently with new offensive coordinator Dirk Koetter, the former head coach at Arizona State, to discuss philosophies and potential design changes.

Leftwich was benched last year after a poor outing against the Houston Texans, and the Jags suspected his bothersome left ankle was worse than originally indicated. He eventually was placed on injured reserve and underwent arthroscopic surgery. In six starts, Leftwich completed 108 of 183 pass attempts for 1,159 yards, with seven touchdown passes and five interceptions, for an efficiency rating of 79.5.

In 46 career appearances, all but two as a starter, Leftwich has completed 789 of 1,344 passes for 9,042 yards, with 51 touchdown passes and 36 interceptions, for an efficiency rating of 80.5.

Len Pasquarelli is a senior writer for ESPN.com.