There’s something to be said about experience in the NFL especially when it comes to coaching. New head coach Bruce Arians has it by the boatload. Same with defensive coordinator Todd Bowles.
As for offensive coordinator Byron Leftwich? Not so much.
However, everyone has to start somewhere. For Leftwich, that was under Arians in Arizona where Arians saw the potential in him and nudged him into coaching. Last year Leftwich took over as the offensive coordinator and play caller for the Arizona Cardinals following the firing of Mike McCoy.
The Cardinals improved under Leftwich, going from a league worst 13.1 points per game under McCoy to 14.8 points per game under Leftwich. Mind you, the Cardinals were still running McCoy’s offensive scheme, but Leftwich took over the play calling. You can’t expect wholesale changes - much like Duffner having taken over for Mike Smith in Tampa - but there were improvements there.
Leftwich is now the guy in Tampa. He’s working with BA and installing a much more efficient and successful offense with an incredibly talented roster. The only advantage the Cardinals’ offense had over the Bucs’ was at the running back position.
Leftwich spoke with the media at his introductory press conference and he’s ready to get to work - most of all with quarterback Jameis Winston;
“I’m excited to work with him. I’m excited. I believe in this kid. This kid can really play. I think there’s things that we all have got to get better at as each individual player but, man, I’m really excited to work with him and really excited to put him in positions so he can be successful, just like everyone else.
He’s a playmaker. He’s been a playmaker from the second he got in this league. This kid’s played four years and he’s only 25 or something like that? It’s amazing, the situations that he’s already been in and experience he’s gained being in this league, so I’m excited about that. Excited not just with Jameis, just to put everybody – the key to this thing when you’re coordinating an offense, when you’re coordinating a defense, is to put your playmakers in position to make plays – and we will do that.”
This is something Bucs fans can’t get enough of. It’s been too long since there was a staff - especially a head coach - that wasn’t trying to force his scheme onto a team that didn’t fit it. Or a coach that threw out good players in exchange for lesser talent that fit “his scheme” (looking at you, Lovie. Or have we all forgotten cutting Darrelle Revis in favor of Mike Jenkins?)
This staff is excited to work with Winston and see him reach his maximum potential.
But not just Winston. Leftwich is excited about the talent across the board on offense. It’s a far cry better than what he worked with in Arizona and when asked if there was any pressure on being the OC of a team with this kind of talent, Leftwich replied;
“It’s better than the opposite. This is great. This is what this is about, man. The key is to have enough players to give yourself an opportunity to win football games and obviously, especially on the offensive side of the ball – I haven’t had a chance to see the defense – we have that. So now it’s putting guys in position to make plays so we can win football games. It’s never really about numbers or stats here. We’ve got to find a way to do what we can to win football games and I just love the coaches that we have here, as a whole.”
Finally, Leftwich touched on the running game. Coming from a team that had David Johnson - one of the best running backs in all of football - I can’t imagine he’s too thrilled to have Peyton Barber and, well, Peyton Barber. Nothing against Barber, he played his heart out and did well in 2018. However, he’s no David Johnson. Maybe Leftwich can revive the rapidly dying career of Ronald Jones. Maybe the Bucs draft another back or go after one in free agency. As far as the running game as a whole, Leftwich isn’t ready to proclaim anything quite yet;
“See, I haven’t watched enough to even know if it needs to be fixed. I think you do have to run the ball in this league. You watch these games as they come [in] the playoffs – it’s good, it’s good. When good starts playing good, you get into late-December football, January football, you’ve got to have the ability to run the football. Guys throw the ball around, but as you guys watched last weekend and the weekend before, they’re turning around and handing that ball off because it’s extremely important. Every play matters in the postseason. That may not be true in the regular season, but every play truly matters. So you see guys running the ball more in the postseason, as you would every postseason.”
Leftwich is a “rising star” according to Bruce Arians. Under his tutelage, Leftwich certainly can become that star. Working together to develop the system to fit the strengths of this team, getting the ball into Mike Evans and O.J. Howard’s hands early and often, and setting up Jameis Winston to succeed while limiting the risks and mistakes. This could be unlike anything we’ve ever seen on the offensive side of the ball in Buccaneers’ history.
To see Leftwich’s entire press conference, click here.