Bucs' QB race -- also known as 'One bone, five dogs' -- already heating up

TAMPA, Fla. -- Raheem Morris characterizes the competition for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers' starting quarterback job in seven words.

"One bone. Five dogs," the first-year Bucs coach begins. "Best man wins."

Luke McCown feels good about his chances. Byron Leftwich relishes the prospect of being a No. 1 quarterback again, and veteran Brian Griese, second-year pro Josh Johnson and first-round draft pick Josh Freeman could figure in the competition, too.

Morris expects to take four quarterbacks to training camp in July.

"It's a competition," said Leftwich, who signed with the Bucs in April after receiving assurances that he would be given a chance to win the job that Jeff Garcia held the past two seasons.

Morris decided against bringing back Garcia but re-signed McCown, who has been a backup in Tampa Bay the past four seasons.

Leftwich, who played behind Ben Roethlisberger with the Pittsburgh Steelers last year, was a starter with the Jacksonville Jaguars and Atlanta Falcons. The Steelers were open to his return, and the 29-year-old also attracted interest from the Washington Redskins.

Morris sold Leftwich on Tampa Bay, promising that the best quarterback will play.

"All anybody can ask for on this football team is that if I go out here and I play well, and if I'm playing better than anybody else, will I have the opportunity to be the guy," Leftwich said. "The toughest thing in the world is being in a situation where no matter what you do, you know you won't have a chance to get out on the field."

McCown has appeared in 12 games in five NFL seasons. He's 1-6 as a starter, with four of his seven starts coming a rookie with the Cleveland Browns in 2004, and last season, he attempted only one pass while receiving limited playing time in two games.

Nevertheless, McCown views himself as the frontrunner, even though Leftwich and Freeman, the 17th pick in the draft, have been brought in since the 27-year-old decided to remain in Tampa Bay.

"This has been a long time coming for me, and I'm not letting anybody take it from me," McCown said. "This is my first real opportunity to compete to be the starter. I look at it as mine, and you're going to have to shoot me."

McCown said Morris has been upfront about wanting to create competition for the starting job and that he wasn't surprised by the signing of Leftwich or drafting of Freeman, who the Bucs would hope to bring along slowly.

McCown doesn't envision his inexperience being a hindrance.

"Nobody knew what New England had in Matt Cassel. You just don't know until you get out there and play," McCown said. "And not three games. You've got to play eight, 10, 12 games in a row to get that experience, to get that confidence, to get that respect."

Leftwich, a former first-round draft pick of the Jaguars, has 49 career starts. He appeared in five games with the Super Bowl champion Steelers last season, throwing for 303 yards, two touchdowns and no interceptions.

He, too, signed a two-year deal knowing there was a chance the Bucs also might take a quarterback high in the draft. In addition to trying to win the starting job, he vowed to do everything he can to help Freeman.

"I remember when I was in that situation," Leftwich said, adding he's also eager to work with a group of playmakers that includes wide receiver Antonio Bryant, tight end Kellen Winslow and running back Derrick Ward.

"I'm going on my seventh year, and I realize as a quarterback in this league, you can't do it by yourself," Leftwich added. "When I was a rookie, and my second year, I thought I could. I'm smarter now. I realize it takes a lot of different elements for you as a quarterback to go out there and play well. I think the Buccaneers have all the elements."

Copyright 2009 by The Associated Press

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