The 5: Things we learned from Byron Leftwich’s first words as Cardinals OC
TEMPE, Ariz. — The redbirds ordered a code red last Friday.
Head coach Steve Wilks had enough watching his team put together the worst offense in the NFL and reacted by firing offensive coordinator Mike McCoy and naming quarterbacks coach Byron Leftwich as his replacement.
Leftwich enters as a small glimmer of hope for a 1-6 football team. His coaching resume is brief, but his experience the last two years under former head coach Bruce Arians gives him the insight to jump-start an offense led by rookie quarterback Josh Rosen.
There’s a long list of items to manage, but Leftwich spoke on all of them, his relationship with Arians and more during his first meeting with reporters on Thursday at Cardinals headquarters.
Yes, he wants to help David Johnson and Larry Fitzgerald
Johnson is averaging 3.2 yards per rush. He’s caught just 20 passes in seven games, or just fewer than three receptions per outing.
Fitzgerald is on pace for his least productive NFL season in 15 of them in terms of receiving yards — and by a good 200 yards at that.
Leftwich knows he can get more out of both.
Asked what he can take from Arians’ use of Johnson, who hit the 100-all-purpose-yard mark in 15 straight games in 2016, Leftwich said, “Everything. I sat shoulder to shoulder with B.A. every day I was here. There’ve been a lot of long nights sitting next to him, us nodding off together.”
And of Fitzgerald?
“We just got to do a better job getting him the ball, putting him in position to make plays for us,” the new offensive coordinator said. “The plays are still there in him — I don’t think he’s dead yet. I think it’s a lot of plays there that this man can make.”
He’s here because of B.A.
Once his playing career ended with the Pittsburgh Steelers in 2012, Leftwich wanted to get away.
His son was 3 years old, and he was satisfied playing golf rather than spending more time in football meeting rooms. He wanted to get his body right, too.
But Arians, who was Leftwich’s offensive coordinator with Pittsburgh in 2011, kept bugging him to get into coaching.
“It’s amazing how you get when you lose the structure that you have for 20 years, you become this big lazy guy,” he said. “I loved it for two years and three years but when it got cold in D.C. I couldn’t play no more golf and something different had to happen.
“B.A.’s just the reason I’m here,” Leftwich added. “I’m glad he got me into this thing because I love every minute of it right now.”
Arians told Doug & Wolf on 98.7 FM Arizona’s Sports Station that he’s been in touch with Leftwich since his promotion. What were his first words? Apparently, and not surprisingly, they were not appropriate for print.
“Well the first two words was — you know,” Leftwich said.
Cardinals still believe
Players in Arizona’s locker room have maintained that they’re not playing up to their capabilities with a 1-6 record. They continue to work like they are fighting for something, according to Leftwich and others.
“I seen teams in this situation and we don’t act like a 1-and-6 football team on the practice field,” Leftwich said.
Receiver Larry Fitzgerald had a fine metaphor to describe the stubborn attitude in Arizona’s locker room.
“I don’t view myself as a 1-and-6 guy, I don’t view my team as a 1-and-6 team,” he said. “But everybody else knows you’re 1-and-6. It’s different. It’s like when you put on a couple extra pounds and your lady or your wife says, ‘Babe, that shirt’s a little tight on you.’ And you’re like, ‘Nah, this shirt actually looks good.’ You’re the last person to realize that shirt is a little tight on you.
“I think it’s better to always believe that the shirt isn’t too tight. Gives you better perspective, doesn’t allow you to be as tight and apprehensive.”
Don’t expect a completely new offense
Although the play-calling might look different, the playbook won’t.
Leftwich isn’t scrapping that. It’s impossible to do in the middle of the season, but that said, the offensive language from McCoy’s system can be translated into a different offensive attack.
“It’s tough to change a lot in a week. It’s not really about doing a bunch of different stuff,” Leftwich said.
Head coach Steve Wilks said last Friday that Leftwich’s job was more about creating clarity when it came to helping Rosen, specifically. That doesn’t mean scaling back, necessarily.
Rosen phrased it as creating “hard rules on where to go (and) when so that I can just go out there and play fast because when I think less I play a little quicker and more efficient.”
Rosen added that he and Leftwich are working to find a sweet spot between an offense that’s too complicated and too simple.
And when it comes to the line, expect six-, seven-, and eight-man protections to help Rosen stay out of trouble.
Emphasis on Josh
Leftwich’s 10 years of NFL quarterbacking experience gives him relatability and credibility with his pupil.
“I know exactly what he’s going through. I mean, exactly,” Leftwich said of Rosen. “It’s almost identical. When he got his first start, I told him I remember I got my first start in my fourth game.
“I don’t know how much that will help me (laughs). But it’s just the position. It’s the toughest thing in sports. It’s not a thing where you snap your finger and automatically get it. We got to rep it.”
Rosen is “21 going on 36,” Leftwich said. But Arizona’s new offensive coordinator knows it will be a learning curve for the rookie, who has completed 55 percent of his passes and thrown three touchdowns to go with five interceptions and three fumbles.
The top priority is preparing Rosen for a long career.
And Leftwich isn’t concerned Rosen’s development might be stunted playing under a new offensive coordinator. That’s why he’s not making massive changes to the playbook.
“If someone comes after me (as offensive coordinator) it’s a concern, ’cause that’d be three,” Leftwich cracked. “As of right now, no. I’m not changing this thing up. I’m not going to put this kid in no situation where he’s out there and don’t have an understanding of what he’s doing. Just put him in better positions so he can have a lot of success in this league.
“The things that I’m trying to put in him you guys may not see on a day-to-day basis. This thing’s about longevity. I want this kid to play 15 years in this league.”