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Meet Byron Leftwich, the man helping to make Tom Brady’s attack work

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Meet Byron Leftwich, the man helping to make Tom Brady’s attack work

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This season, Leftwich’s adaptability has been even more critical.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers offensive coordinator Byron Leftwich talks to quarterback Tom Brady before a game. Mark LoMoglio/AP Photo

When Tom Brady fires a game-winning touchdown pass, it might seem like a fatal outcome in football.

But even Brady can’t orchestrate an entire attack on his own against a generation of NFL defenses that grew up dissecting their tendencies. The Tampa Bay Buccaneers rank second in the league in scoring, largely because Byron Leftwich, their offensive coordinator, tailors the offense to playmakers that revolve around Brady, their star quarterback.

This season, with COVID-19, injuries and other unusual circumstances threatening Tampa Bay’s season, Leftwich has changed its play calls to make the most of Frankenstein’s roster.

When the Bucs needed a last-minute drive to beat the New York Jets in early January, in a game that receiver Antonio Brown unexpectedly and dramatically left in the third quarter, Leftwich made up routes for a replacement. , Cyril Grayson, a recent and rapid promotion. of the training team. Grayson caught three short passes on the final drive, and when the Jets defense sat on quick throws in the closing moments, Leftwich called a sideline shot that went 33 yards for the score – just the 10th catch of Grayson of the season.

In a league where teams covet plug-and-play charts, Leftwich prefers bespoke schemes designed to counter defense and options that utilize the breadth of Brady’s experience. Even if that means Brady shakes it up from time to time, as happened in the season opener against the Dallas Cowboys when on the game-winning drive, Brady called a 24-yard shot to the receiver. Chris Godwin.

“He’s been in every situation,” Leftwich said in a phone interview last month. “If there’s an opportunity where he sees something that I can’t because he’s on the pitch, hey man, let’s go.”

The approach was a boon for last season’s Buccaneers, whose roster fused Pro Bowl receivers Godwin and Mike Evans with free agents Brady lobbied for, including tight end Rob Gronkowski and Brown, since out, en route to a championship.

This season, Leftwich’s adaptability has been even more critical, as the team have once again become a top three offense despite Godwin’s torn anterior cruciate ligament in Week 14 and Brown’s surprise exit in midfield. part. Evans and running back Leonard Fournette also missed games, though both are expected to play in the playoffs.

“It’s not just, ‘OK, you’re going to run my business and we’ll do it my way,'” Leftwich said. “We’re going to do what we have to do to make our group, as a group, play well.”

Leftwich, a nine-year-old NFL quarterback, is, at 41, younger than Brady, 44. He is due to interview for the position of head coach of the Jacksonville Jaguars, a role that was given last summer to an untested and since fired college coach. For now, his personalization of offense – and understanding of his centerpiece – gives the Buccaneers a chance to repeat as champions despite attrition.

Leftwich says a game is only as good as the comfort of the quarterback running it, and he often calls Brady late at night to check on designs and adjustments.

“When you work together for a long time, you start to see the game very similar,” Brady said ahead of the Super Bowl win. “When he watches a movie, he thinks, ‘Oh, that’s what Tom would like,’ and vice versa.”

Leftwich said: “You can’t call plays for a guy unless you know a guy. You can not.

Leftwich is perhaps best known for one of college football’s displays of courage. During the first quarter of a November 2002 game during Leftwich’s senior season at Marshall University, an Akron linebacker charged into his planted left leg, breaking his shin. He went to the hospital to have his leg put on and returned to lead a pair of hallmark practices, during which his offensive linemen hoisted him up between games and carried him to huddle.

Playing the next game – against Ben Roethlisberger and Miami of Ohio – was out of the question, so he spent the week digging into the film and creating a game plan with his replacement, Stan Hill. Marshall won the shootout, 36-34.

As Leftwich prepared for the NFL Draft, scouts praised the strength and tenacity of his arms. But he said his real talent was guessing his opponents’ patterns and finding plays that muddled them.

After the Jaguars drafted him with the seventh overall pick in 2003, an accumulation of injuries over time transformed him from a future franchise quarterback to a valued backup. As he bounced from roster to roster – Atlanta, Pittsburgh, Tampa Bay – Leftwich mentored young quarterbacks, talked covers with his coaches and collected all the football information he could. , rotating between tables in the team cafeteria so he can sit with receivers one day and defensive linemen the next.

“If I had something he disagreed with, we had to go back and find it on film,” said Ken Anderson, Leftwich’s positional coach in Jacksonville and Pittsburgh, “because that he wanted to know everything.” He recalled that Leftwich even prepared their own notes for their midweek meetings.

Knowledge is exclusive to the NFL. It can help a backup knock down a starter, but Leftwich didn’t care to hide what he knew. When he was benched in favor of young prospects a few games into his 2009 season with the Buccaneers, he made room in his daily routine to teach his replacements the nuances of pre-snap readings.

“He would get them through all the checks on the line,” said Tim Holt, an offensive assistant on that Buccaneers team. “They were asking the equipment guys to line up the bins after practice, and he was like, ‘Okay, we’re checking that. Which trash can you hit?’ He was so good with the visual part of the game, and these guys needed him.

In 2016, four years after Leftwich retired as a player, then-Arizona Cardinals head coach Bruce Arians hired him to mentor the team’s young quarterbacks as part of a scholarship that the coach had started giving former non-white players a start in coaching. Leftwich rose quickly, first as quarterbacks coach and then as interim offensive coordinator.

When the Buccaneers hired Arians as head coach in 2019, he grabbed his protege and gave him the offense, knowing he was in good hands.

“He hasn’t been to one of my meetings in three years,” Leftwich said.

Meet Byron Leftwich, the man helping to make Tom Brady’s attack work

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