- The Washington Times - Wednesday, January 28, 2009

TAMPA, Fla. | Pittsburgh Steelers offensive coordinator Bruce Arians figuratively looked around the NFL on Tuesday during Super Bowl media day and then thought about backup quarterback and D.C. native Byron Leftwich.

Arians concluded Leftwich should play as a starter next year.

“I would think there are 10 teams he could start for right now,” Arians said. “I would love to have him back, but I know if I was a head coach for one of those teams I’d work to get him.”

Such is the high regard the Steelers have for Leftwich, who signed in mid-August when veteran backup Charlie Batch broke his collarbone. Leftwich’s one-year, $465,000 contract expires after the season, and he hits the open market less than four weeks after the Steelers’ Super Bowl matchup against the Arizona Cardinals.

Ben Roethlisberger is entrenched as the Steelers’ franchise quarterback, but at least seven teams - Carolina, Minnesota, Chicago, Buffalo, Kansas City, Detroit and the New York Jets - could be looking for new quarterbacks.

Leftwich, who attended H.D. Woodson High School and Marshall University, has his recent health (only 53 pass attempts the last two seasons), youth (turned 29 two weeks ago) and a desire to start again (which should mean he won’t seek a mega-dollar contract) in his favor.

“I hope they listen to somebody,” Leftwich said when told of Arians’ endorsement. “If they don’t listen to him, they can listen to me.”

Leftwich’s career was derailed in Jacksonville a day after the 2007 preseason when coach Jack Del Rio named David Garrard the starter. Leftwich was released after starting for all or parts of four years and hooked on with Atlanta, which cut him during the offseason.

Arians said Leftwich has been “unbelievable” to work with.

“I can’t say enough about Byron,” Arians said. “You talk about the ultimate professional. When he’s been called on, he’s been on the money and ready to play.”

Leftwich made his biggest impact against his hometown team. At the Redskins on Nov. 3, Roethlisberger left the game at halftime because of injury with the Steelers leading 10-6.

In his first non-mop up duty with Pittsburgh, Leftwich went 7-for-10 for 129 yards and one touchdown in a 23-6 Steelers victory.

On third down he went 4-for-5 for 49 yards and made four conversions.

“He hit [a 50-yard] bomb and played on third down like he had been playing all year,” Arians said. “It was great to have him in the huddle.”

For the season, Leftwich was 21-for-36 for 303 yards and two touchdowns.

“I’m not the kind of coach who’s going to give the backup quarterback any reps during the week - they’re going to learn by osmosis,” Arians said. “He doesn’t need any. He’s an extremely bright player and has been a blessing for this football team.”

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