Byron Leftwich was one of six assistant coaches brought back by new coach Steve Wilks.
Long-time NFL quarterback Byron Leftwich has been a coach for two years now, but in many ways, he’s still been the pupil.
Leftwich spoke fondly on Thursday of everything he learned from mentor Bruce Arians, who brought him to the Cardinals as an intern in 2016 and elevated him to quarterbacks coach last year.
“There were many nights me and him sat side-by-side, coming up with game plans, doing those types of things,” Leftwich said. “I was just grateful for him giving me that opportunity, to be able to learn so much in such a short period of time.”
Now comes the next step in Leftwich’s progression.
Even though Arians retired in January, Leftwich made enough of an impact to be considered for retention, and new coach Steve Wilks kept him on as the quarterbacks coach after a meeting between the pair.
“I came away very impressed,” Wilks said.
The job title stays the same but it’s a much different scenario at quarterback heading into 2018. Veteran Carson Palmer, who had a strong grasp of the offense before Leftwich arrived, retired last month. Reserves Drew Stanton, Blaine Gabbert and Matt Barkley are impending free agents. The Cardinals don’t currently have a quarterback under contract for next season.
“Is it a little different not knowing who’s going to be the four guys in there? Yes, just by not knowing,” Leftwich said. “But whatever four guys are in there, I know they’re going to come in ready to work and I’m going to come in ready to teach.”
Leftwich was on an upward trajectory under Arians, who allowed him to call plays last preseason and was complimentary about the job he did afterward. It was an experience Leftwich treasured.
“I’m a pretty confident guy, but I had never done it, and I had never practiced it,” Leftwich said. “That’s the tough part. Knowing B.A., B.A. ain’t going to give you two weeks in practice to prepare. He gave me a 10-play period to call them. The first time I ever called plays was in the game. I wish I would have done a few things here and there better, but that’s the exciting part of growing in this business. That helped my growth.”
Arians’ retirement threatened to slow that momentum, but Leftwich was one of six coaches brought back. Wilks wasn’t deterred by Leftwich’s coaching inexperience, noting the value of his nine-year playing career.
“It really brings that instant credibility, number one,” Wilks said. “Not only did he play that position, but he played it at a very high level. I think he understands the minute things that go into teaching that position.”
Leftwich is enjoying the current portion of the offseason process, evaluating quarterbacks as free agency and the draft approach. Soon enough the roster will have its signal-callers, and the ability to find a suitable replacement for Palmer will be the story of 2018.
“Steve Keim and I are coming up with a very aggressive plan, whether it’s going to be through trade, free agency, the draft or all three,” Wilks said. “We’re going to get someone in that room that Byron is going to do a great job of coaching and mentoring.”
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