By Dale Grdnic
PITTSBURGH — If the 2003 NFL Draft played out just a little differently, quarterback Byron Leftwich could have been preparing to play against the Pittsburgh Steelers instead of getting his first start for Ben Roethlisberger against the Baltimore Ravens Sunday night at 8:20 at Heinz Field.
Leftwich was selected by the Jacksonville Jaguars with the seventh overall pick in the first round after Minnesota lost its spot when the allotted time to me the choice expired. Heisman Trophy-winner Carson Palmer was taken by the Cincinnati Bengals with the No. 1 pick overall.
Leftwich, from Marshall, was the second quarterback selected. The Ravens took Kyle Boller from Cal with the 19th overall pick, while the Chicago Bears selected Rex Grossman from Florida at No. 22.
“I remember conversations with Ozzie (Ravens GM Newsome) and that’s where I thought I would be,” Leftwich said. “I think they thought that’s where I would be, (but) it didn’t turn out that way. With the Minnesota thing going down, I thought I would be the seventh pick to the Baltimore Ravens.
“(So), with all the meetings I had, I knew where I would be drafted. By the talks that you have with people before the draft, I knew I would be the seventh pick. I didn’t know what team because I knew that seventh pick was going to get traded by Minnesota. I knew something would go down with that pick between Baltimore, Carolina and Jacksonville. It was Jacksonville who took me.”
Leftwich got a big contract to play for the Jaguars, and he lasted four seasons there with 44 starts in 46 games played. He played three games for the Atlanta Falcons in 2007 and was signed by the Steelers in 2008. The Tampa Bay Buccaneers gave him a chance to start in 2009, and he lasted three games there.
Leftwich returned to the Steelers in 2010 and has been with them ever since. While some players have a desire to be a full-time starter, Leftwich is happy being Roethlisberger’s backup.
“This isn’t a bad situation to be in, and that’s my point,” Leftwich said. “We have a quarterback who’s been to the Super Bowl three times in (eight) years. That goes to (show) you how good he is as a quarterback. I’m not going to go out there and try to be Ben. We see the game differently.
“(There are) ways that he’s physically able to do certain things I can’t do. So, he sees it a little different. That doesn’t mean I can’t go out there and do my job. We understand that everybody is like, ‘Hey man, they’ve got a backup quarterback Sunday night playing the Baltimore Ravens.’
“We understand that nobody is really giving us a shot, and that’s OK,” Leftwich added. “We’re not trying to say that to say it’s us against the world. … We understand guys have got jobs to do, and they have opinions. But we try not to worry about those opinions. We try to worry about what we have to worry about to go out there and get ourselves ready.”
Offensive coordinator Todd Haley believed Leftwich had no issues with running the Steelers’ the offense.
“We’re going to do our best to cater to Byron’s strengths at quarterback, as opposed to trying to force square pegs into round holes,” Haley said. “There’s a lot to like about Byron. He’s a backup here, but he’s obviously shown that he can start in this league and be successful.
Despite a lengthy and productive career as a starting quarterback for several different teams, Leftwich has not opened a game since 2009 with Tampa Bay and has not won a start since 2006.
“Damn, I haven’t,” Leftwich said. “This is the first time I heard that. (But) I remember playing Baltimore (twice), and we lost my rookie year. Then they came to Jacksonville, and we got them.”
If things would have gone a little differently in 2003, who knows how Leftwich’s NFL career would have turned out.
Linebacker Marshall McFadden was promoted to the active roster after spending the opening 10 weeks on the practice squad. He will wear No. 40. He originally was signed January 18, 2012. … To make room for McFadden on the active roster, the Steelers placed linebacker Chris Carter on the Reserve/Injured List with an abdominal problem. Carter played in eight games this season, including his first three career starts. … The club also signed tight end Jamie McCoy to the practice squad. He will wear No. 80.
Cornerback Curtis Brown (quad), free safety Ryan Clark (concussion), defensive end Brett Keisel (shoulder), running back Rashard Mendenhall (Achilles), offensive tackle Max Starks, linebacker Stevenson Sylvester (hamstring) and cornerback Ike Taylor (illness) were full-time participants in practice Thursday.
Wideout Antonio Brown (ankle), offensive tackle Marcus Gilbert (ankle), strong safety Troy Polamalu (right calf) and quarterback Ben Roethlisberger (right shoulder) did not practice Thursday. Brown said he will attempt to practice Friday and play Sunday, while the others already have been ruled out.
Mendenhall and Clark have been cleared to play against the Ravens Sunday. Isaac Redman believed that he, Jonathan Dwyer and Mendenhall would all get reps at running back this week, but he would not speculate on a starter. If he plays, Mendenhall should start against the Ravens.