Why Josh Rosen will listen to new Cardinals OC Byron Leftwich

TEMPE, Ariz. -- For most of his almost 2½ years with the Arizona Cardinals, Byron Leftwich has been relatively quiet.

He has spoken to the media a handful of times, but, for the most part, the longtime NFL quarterback has toiled in relative anonymity, first as a coaching intern in 2016 and then as the team's quarterbacks coach in 2017 and thus far through 2018.

That ended Friday when Leftwich, 38, was named the Cardinals' interim offensive coordinator after head coach Steve Wilks fired Mike McCoy following a 1-6 start that saw the offense get worse by the week.

Now it's up to Leftwich, who has called plays only during preseason games, to kick-start an offense mired in inefficiency and ineffectiveness.

So, what kind of playcaller will Leftwich be?

"We're going to find out," Wilks said. "From the things I've heard in the past and having the opportunity to call it in the preseason was very productive."

Calling plays, however, is something Leftwich enjoys and has embraced.

"I learned a lot those two games," said Leftwich in February of calling the 2017 preseason games against the Raiders and Bears. "I mean, they were preseason games, so not a lot was put into it. I had fun doing it. I had fun coaching the position. I had fun coaching and working with the guys. It's just fun, man.

"It's just fun to do what I do, and I'm blessed and happy that they gave me the opportunity to do it."

But where Leftwich will be most valuable as the offensive coordinator is working with rookie quarterback Josh Rosen.

Leftwich has been in Josh Rosen's shoes before. And regardless of everything else that Leftwich might or might not bring with him to his new position, that could be the most important.

He understands what Rosen, the 10th overall pick this spring, is going through -- almost exactly.

Leftwich was the seventh overall pick in 2003 by the Jacksonville Jaguars. Once in Jacksonville, Leftwich -- like Rosen -- was a backup to start his NFL career. He was thrust into the spotlight in Week 2 of his rookie season after Mark Brunell suffered an injury. Rosen played in Week 3.

From there, Leftwich went through the life cycle of an NFL quarterback. He was injured, released and signed elsewhere, was a backup, was a starter, lost, lost his job and, eventually, retired. He played for Jacksonville, Atlanta, Pittsburgh twice and Tampa Bay over nine seasons from 2003 to 2012. He threw for 10,532 yards and 58 touchdowns with a career completion percentage of 57.9.

"I've been a franchise quarterback in this league," Leftwich told ESPN. "I've been a guy who's got cut, I've been at the bottom. I've been at the highs of the highs. I've been in the blender. I've been through it all. I've been to the highs of the highs and the lows of the lows in this league. And I understand this league. I understand how tough of a position it is, and I understand exactly what [the rookies are] going through at all times."

Earlier this season, unprompted, Rosen said Leftwich "has helped me a ton." Wilks praised Leftwich before Rosen was playing for "keeping him in the fold, as far as his communication."

Wilks believes that type of experience will lead to better relationships with Rosen and the other quarterbacks, which "is going to be a plus."

"I think it says a lot, and that's very important, quarterback-OC relationship, as well as being able to see things on the same wavelength," Wilks said. "Again, Byron has played the game. He understands Josh's situation and his role that he's in, particularly being in critical games, like we were in last night and the week before. So, he can relate to him, which I think is important."

One of Leftwich's priorities as offensive coordinator was made clear by Wilks last week: Get running back David Johnson more involved.

That shouldn't be an issue for Leftwich, who watched how former Cardinals coach Bruce Arians -- who hired Leftwich as an intern two years ago -- used Johnson in 2016. Then, Johnson had a league-high 2,118 yards from scrimmage. Seven games into this season, Johnson has just 501.

"You definitely want to be able to try to get David Johnson going in the run game, as well as in the pass game," Wilks said. "With Byron being here before and being part of that and understanding some of the success he's had in the past, hopefully we can tap back into some of the things that David was doing in the past."

How much Leftwich revamps the playbook is yet to be seen. His first game as coordinator will be Sunday against the San Francisco 49ers before Arizona heads into its bye week.

But Wilks had some simple instructions for Leftwich, who likely understood them better than most.

"I think what Byron is going to do, from what he and I have talked about, is really try to figure out what Josh does well," Wilks said. "I think that's the key thing. When you have a young quarterback, you want to make sure we're putting him in position to where he can go out there and don't have to think as much.

"And those are the things we're talking about, and those are things we're going to try to do moving forward."

Back in February, when Leftwich was among the Cardinals' assistants who met with the media, he said he didn't have career goals. His vision was basic, one that will help him starting this week.

"I just want to be a better coach," Leftwich said. "I wake up every day and that's my whole goal right now, is to be a really good coach, and everything else will take care of itself. Did I enjoy calling those plays? Yes. Most fun I ever had as a coach, really."