The Jaguars hope to clear up their quarterback situation as they tune up for the playoffs when they finish the regular season against the Tennessee Titans.
Leftwich returned to practice on Wednesday for the first time in nearly a month since suffering a broken left ankle against Arizona on Nov. 27. Although the injury didn’t require surgery, he spent the next few weeks on crutches and in a protective boot.
“I really want to go out there and have no pain, really go out there and have as less pain as possible,” said Leftwich, who was listed as questionable for Sunday. “I really haven’t practiced since before the Arizona game. It’s a day to go out and see what I can and can’t do and to see how far I can go.”
Coach Jack Del Rio must factor in whether starting Leftwich in an essentially meaningless game will jeopardize the ankle.
Del Rio has received solid play from backup David Garrard, who is 3-1 since taking over as the starter. However, the Jaguars have trailed in the second half of in each of those games and Del Rio indicated that Leftwich will be back as the starter if fully healthy.
“Byron has progressed well during the week and was a little better each day,” coach Jack Del Rio said Friday. “But I’m not going to declare whether he’ll play until I have to.”
The Jaguars will play at either two-time defending Super Bowl champion New England or Cincinnati next week. They clinched their first playoff spot since 1999 by beating Houston, 38-20 last week.
However, Jacksonville still has motivation to win Sunday. The Jaguars are seeking their first season sweep of the AFC South rival Titans since 1997.
Titans coach Jeff Fisher may have unwittingly provided some extra motivation when he said last week that he hoped the Jaguars would lose at Houston so Tennessee could knock them out of the playoffs.
“I just don’t know what to make of the comments he makes about Jacksonville,” Del Rio said. “He either has a buddy here he’s talking to through code or something. I’m not sure I get it.
“I would think it would be out of character for a guy who’s been a successful coach as long as he has. It almost sounds desperate.”
Fisher may be desperate when it comes to who will start for him at quarterback. Steve McNair isn’t expected to practice until Friday and third-stringer Matt Mauck received the bulk of the work with the first-team offense this week.
That’s because backup Billy Volek was sacked four times and fumbled twice in last week’s 24-10 loss at Miami. Volek has a passer rating of just 70.9 in part-time duty this season.
“What we did (Wednesday), we got Matt Mauck the reps in the event that Steve can’t play, we’ll have an opportunity in the ballgame to get Matt some playing time,” Fisher said.
“We know what Billy can do. Billy’s done a great job for us as a reliever off the bench, as a starter. He’s won games for us. We don’t know much about Matt.”
It could be the final game in a Tennessee uniform for McNair, who suffered a strained right pectoral muscle last week. McNair, the all-time winningest quarterback in franchise history, is due a $50 million offseason bonus that will likely cause his contract to be re-negotiated.
Jacksonville defensive end Paul Spicer will not play due to a broken left hand suffered in pregame warmups last week.
“We’d like to be able to win because we like to win every time we go out and play,” Del Rio said. “At the same time, we’d like to have our team as healthy and ready to go for the playoffs as possible. There is a fine line there.”