TAMPA, Fla. (AP) — Though Raheem Morris says Tampa Bay’s quarterback competition is still wide open, the first-year coach plans to make a decision within a week.

That suits the apparent frontrunner, Byron Leftwich, just fine.

Leftwich will begin Saturday night’s preseason game at Jacksonville with an opportunity to be a team’s No. 1 quarterback for the first time since the Jaguars cut him late in training camp two years ago.

That’s precisely what Leftwich hoped for when he signed with Tampa Bay this spring after spending last season as a backup to Ben Roethlisberger in Pittsburgh.

“I didn’t really care what quarterbacks were with the team. I just wanted to be able to go out and compete and be the guy if I’m the best guy for the job,” the seventh-year pro said Monday.

“That’s all you can ask for. That’s what I asked for — and Raheem promised — if I came here. I’m just going to try to take advantage of it.”

So far, so good.

Leftwich has moved the offense consistently in practice and outplayed the other contenders for the job, Luke McCown and rookie Josh Freeman, during last Saturday’s preseason opener at Tennessee.

Second-year pro Josh Johnson is also competing to be one of three quarterbacks Morris plans to take into the regular season.

“They’re all fighting for spots. … I don’t rule anybody out,” Morris said. “I know (the media) might rule guys out. But I haven’t. Not in my mind.”

The oft-injured Leftwich spent four seasons in Jacksonville after entering the NFL as a first-round pick in 2003, compiling a 24-20 record as a starter. He signed with Atlanta after the Jaguars cut him, and started two of three games he played with the Falcons in 2007.

The 29-year-old was strictly insurance for Roethlisberger with the Steelers, a role he thinks provided a new lease for his career.

“I think being in Pittsburgh offered me this opportunity because it gave me a year to get healthy,” said Leftwich, who stood in for Roethlisberger six times last season, including once in the playoffs.

“I wasn’t healthy for a while. I was banged up a lot. And not playing every week last year really gave me an opportunity to heal, be part of a great organization, be part of a great football team and get a Super Bowl ring, Leftwich said.

“I gained a lot without being the starter and without getting beat up week in and week out. This is the healthiest I’ve been since I’ve been in this league, and I’m excited about it.”

McCown started Tampa Bay’s preseason opener, primarily because he signed a two-year, $7.5 million in March – a month before Leftwich joined the team.

Morris promised the sixth-year pro a legitimate chance to win the starting job after not truly having that opportunity the past four seasons.

But now, it’s Leftwich’s turn to take snaps with the first-team offense.

“I’ve seen different things from both of them — or even Freeman. … I’ve seen the characteristics that you want in a leader,” Morris said without providing a hint of which way he’s leaning.

What the first-year coach would allow is the decision will come before the third preseason game against Miami.

“That third preseason game is when you get out there and go through a game plan. … I just think you’ve got to make a decision about the leader of your football team at that point, go into the game and let them play with the guy that they know is going to be their guy,” Morris said.

“You come back the following week and find out who’s going to be the bottom half of your roster.”


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