Leftwich hurt; Jaguars to start Garrard on Sunday

In a move that is certain to stir speculation about the direction of the team's future at quarterback, ESPN.com has learned that backup David Garrard, who took most of the snaps for the Jacksonville Jaguars this week, will start in Sunday's game at Philadelphia, replacing injured Byron Leftwich.

David Garrard Garrard

Byron Leftwich Leftwich

Leftwich, who is battling a sprained left ankle, did not practice Friday for a second straight day. He split the snaps with Garrard on Wednesday, then tossed his shoulder pads to the ground during a stretching segment before the Thursday practice, when informed he would not work in the "team" portions of the session.

Coach Jack Del Rio said Friday that the status of the quarterbacks remains a game-time decision, and Leftwich still is listed as "questionable" on the official injury report. But while both quarterbacks said Thursday they did not know who would play in Philadelphia, sources said Garrard already had been apprised he will be the starter.

A fifth-year veteran, Garrard has started eight games in his career, with a 5-3 record. He started the final five contests in 2005, while Leftwich was sidelined by a fractured left ankle, and posted a 4-1 record. The current ankle problem that Leftwich is experiencing is not related to last year's fracture, the Jaguars said.

The sore ankle flared up late last week, without warning, and nearly cost Leftwich last Sunday's start against the Houston Texans. The Jaguars lost at Houston 27-7, falling to a disappointing 3-3 for the year. Leftwich played the entire game and performed unevenly, completing 14 of 28 passes for 125 yards, with no touchdown passes, no interceptions and a passer rating of 62.4.

Del Rio initially said after the Houston game that he did not feel the ankle was a big factor in Leftwich's performance, but then changed his mind after reviewing the videotape. On Wednesday, he decided that, with the ankle not showing improvement, the quarterbacks would share the snaps with the No. 1 offense.

What makes the decision to go with Garrard a tough one is that there are suspicions that some in the Jags organization don't feel Leftwich is the long-term answer. The switch this weekend, even if only for medical reasons, will further fuel speculation along those lines. Some will see the ankle injury as a convenient excuse to bench Leftwich and evaluate Garrard.

Del Rio may have no other agenda than wanting a more mobile quarterback in the lineup against an Eagles defense that boasts an NFL-high 25 sacks. But he will have trouble selling such a rationale to Leftwich and some others.

Leftwich is a fierce competitor, a guy with a reputation for playing hurt, and he apparently was less than 100 percent physically for much longer than anyone knew, since he now traces the ankle injury to the Oct. 1 game at Washington. The fourth-year veteran, one of the league's best players to deal with and a candid guy whose emotions are usually dangling from his sleeve, is also a player who feels that he has earned the right to consider the Jaguars his team.

The team's first-round pick in the 2003 draft, Leftwich is signed only through the 2007 season. Garrard signed a contract extension in 2005, bypassing the prospect of unrestricted free agency in the spring of '06, that runs through the 2008 season.

Leftwich, 26, took over as the Jags' starter early in the 2003 season. For his career, the former Marshall star has completed 789 of 1,344 passes for 9,042 yards, with 51 touchdown passes, 36 interceptions and a passer rating of 80.5. He has compiled a 24-20 record as a starter.

Len Pasquarelli is a senior NFL writer for ESPN.com. To check out Len's chat archive, click hereInsider.