On the Steelers: Leftwich wants to return Sept. 26


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Byron Leftwich lined up with teammates and threw more passes in practice Thursday, and it's obvious another bubbling quarterback controversy is on the way for the Steelers.

That would make it about No. 3, not counting their off-field quarterback controversies. The latest one may not occur until next week because, although Leftwich threw, he limped as if he would have to be lifted down field after every pass the way his Thundering Herd teammates did for him at Marshall after he broke a shin.

He wants to dress for the game Sunday in Tennessee.

"That is not unrealistic," Leftwich said.

He would like to play Sept. 26 in Tampa Bay, where he opened the '09 season as the starter.

"We'll see," Leftwich said.

The prognosis for his return to play after the MCL in his left knee was sprained was two to four weeks, and as Leftwich said Thursday, "I think we just hit two weeks today."

"Everything's going fine. It's getting better every day, and now's the process of how long does it take to really get to where I can go out there and help this football team?"

Only quarterback Dennis Dixon and coach Mike Tomlin can answer that, after Leftwich's knee is deemed sufficiently healed. Dixon will have to provide answers Sunday in Nashville, or his coach will do it for him. Tomlin hesitated for two days after the Steelers' 15-9 overtime win Sunday against Atlanta before he declared who would start at quarterback in Tennessee.

Tomlin said he was encouraged by the way Dixon improved as the game against the Falcons progressed, and offensive coordinator Bruce Arians elaborated on that Thursday.

"He did a great job, I thought, as the game progressed, getting better, catching up with the speed of the game. He had some low throws early; he just worked too fast. He was right on target, right reads, worked too fast and that usually ends up to a low throw. I'd rather see them low than high because high get intercepted."

Arians gave Dixon different advice this week, raising the bar for the young quarterback.

"We told him going into the game, the punter and field goal kicker were his best friends last week. The end zone will be his best friend this week."

That means he expects Dixon to lead his team to touchdowns and not just field goals against the Titans, because Arians believes they will need more points to win.

"Home field, that's seven for you," Arians said. "Going down there, I always look at it as [down] 7-0 and we have to catch up right away and get some points. Still can't turn it over, but we have to be able to get the ball in the end zone."

If Dixon fails at that, Leftwich could step back in as the latest quarterback keeping the seat warm until Ben Roethlisberger's return Oct. 4.

Brown back in the mix

The jockeying to become the Steelers' No. 4 wide receiver continued in practice this week with no clear-cut winner but with Antonio Brown re-entering the competition.

At the moment, a No. 4 wide receiver is not needed, but that could change when Roethlisberger returns.

Although the Steelers dressed five wide receivers for the opener, they used only three at the position. Arnaz Battle and rookie Emmanuel Sanders played strictly on special teams. Sanders was deep on kickoffs with Mewelde Moore, but he missed practice again Thursday with a bruised thigh and may swap places Sunday with Brown. And that would mean Brown could return kickoffs and/or punts in Tennessee.

The Steelers have used four wide receivers often in the past, but to do that, they must do one of two things: Remove tight end Heath Miller from the field or go with an empty set. Miller almost always has a spot in the passing game, and they did not seem to want Dixon to operate without someone with him in the backfield in the opener.

So, it may matter little who the No. 4 receiver is unless someone is injured. Antwaan Randle El is No. 3 behind starters Hines Ward and Mike Wallace.

"These guys need to get on a field and find a role," Arians said. "They're still looking and searching. We'll find whoever '4' is with a healthy body, live with those three and stick the fourth one out there."

Brown is in the mix.

"That's usually the Wally Pipp story," Arians said. "The one dude who jumps in there when he gets his opportunity doesn't give it back and that could be his this week."

Quick hits

Troy Polamalu missed practice Thursday for good reason. His wife. Theodora. was giving birth to their second child, a boy. ... Defensive end Nick Eason missed his second consecutive practice, and no reason was given other than the absence was not injury related. ... Neither nose tackle Casey Hampton (hamstring) nor left tackle Max Starks (sprained ankle) practiced again. ... Cornerback Bryant McFadden (groin) joined the injured and did not practice.


For more on the Steelers, read the blog, Ed Bouchette on the Steelers at www.post-gazette.com/plus . Ed Bouchette: ebouchette@post-gazette.com .


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