Steelers have QB issues for offseason

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For the first time since he became coach in 2007, Mike Tomlin will have some issues to address at quarterback.

And not just on the depth chart.

Sure, he has to decide which veteran quarterback he wants to keep most -- Charlie Batch, 37, who compiled a 3-1 record filling in for Ben Roethlisberger the past two seasons and has been the healthiest quarterback on the roster; or Byron Leftwich, who was brought in via a trade to replace Roethlisberger for four games at the start of the 2010 season, but instead has thrown seven meaningful passes in the past 2 1/2 seasons because of injuries.

Of greater significance is how Roethlisberger will adjust to a new offensive coordinator, especially if Tomlin goes outside the organization to hire a replacement for Bruce Arians.

Roethlisberger has had to adapt to a new coordinator just once, and that was after his third season in 2007, when Arians replaced Ken Whisenhunt, who left to become head coach of the Arizona Cardinals. But the transition was smooth because Arians, the wide receivers coach, had installed much of the passing game Roethlisberger used while Whisenhunt was the coordinator.

Roethlisberger is already upset that Arians will not be back next season. His discomfort only will increase if he has to learn a new scheme with new terminology -- one of the reasons the Steelers are likely leaning toward finding their offensive coordinator in-house.

Beyond that, there are issues involving the backups.

Leftwich, Batch and Dennis Dixon are unrestricted free agents, and the Steelers will re-sign one and possibly two for next season. Dixon, a fifth-round choice in 2008, is not expected to return because he has indicated he wants to be at least a No. 2 quarterback -- something he has not been, at least on a permanent basis, with the Steelers. He did not appeared in a game this season.

The Steelers already have added two quarterbacks to their offseason roster -- former Heisman Trophy winner Troy Smith, who played for the Baltimore Ravens and is the only rookie quarterback to beat Dick LeBeau since he became defensive coordinator in 2004; and free-agent Jerrod Johnson, who played at Texas A&M.

And it is not inconceivable they could draft a quarterback in the later rounds in April, depending what decision they reach with Leftwich and/or Batch.

Batch, though, said he wants to return in 2012. And, for a player who has a history of being injury-prone, he is the only quarterback who has not missed a game because of injuries since '10.

Considered the odd-man out each of the past two seasons, Batch keeps resurfacing as the one backup to whom the Steelers have turned.

"Absolutely, I want to come back," Batch said. "The best part is, we both want to come back. Hopefully, we will get it done and things will work out."

In '10, Batch did not get a chance to compete to be the starting quarterback during Roethlisberger's suspension because Tomlin said he was concerned about his durability. Should the coach feel that way about Leftwich, who turned 32 Jan. 14?

Curiously, Leftwich was brought back via a draft-day trade in '10 to be the designated replacement for Roethlisberger, when he served a four-game suspension to start that season. But Leftwich was injured in the final preseason game and never played until the second half of the regular-season finale in Cleveland, when he completed 7 of 9 passes.

This year, he broke his left arm above the elbow in the preseason and was placed on injured reserve. Leftwich hasn't played a full game since Week 3 of the'09 season when he was with Tampa Bay. He is the only one of the four quarterbacks who hasn't started a game for the Steelers.

Just one more issue with which Tomlin has to contend.


Gerry Dulac: gdulac@post-gazette.com and Twitter @gerrydulac.


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