Charlie Batch, left, has worn many hats since joining the Steelers
By Ed Bouchette Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
Under normal circumstances, tonight's final preseason game for the Steelers against the Carolina Panthers would mean little more than keeping the starters healthy and allowing one last chance for a young player to make his case for a spot on the team.
Of course, these are not normal circumstances for the Steelers as they produce another episode of How the Quarterback Turns, final preseason version at 7:30 p.m. at Heinz Field.
It looks as if quarterback Ben Roethlisberger will make his third consecutive start and then bow out until at least Oct. 17. It looks as if Byron Leftwich will follow him in the pocket tonight as the presumed starter to open the season Sept. 12.
And it's possible that Charlie Batch will make his final appearance in a Steelers uniform, if he gets to play at all.
Game: : Steelers vs. Carolina Panthers, Heinz Field.
When: 7:30 p.m.
Of note:Rosters must be trimmed to the 53-man limit on Saturday.
Batch, a Homestead native, has been the forgotten man in this most unusual quarterback derby forced on the Steelers because of the suspension of Roethlisberger, which may be reduced Friday by commissioner Roger Goodell from six to four games.
Even though Batch has been a backup quarterback with his hometown team the previous eight seasons, even though he helped save their Super Bowl season in 2005 by winning two games as a starter for the injured Roethlisberger, even though he was their No. 2 quarterback last season and has been Roethlisberger's confidante since '04, he has been shunned since The Plan was hatched last spring to find a replacement for the first four games. And now he's a candidate to be released.
Mike Tomlin and his coaching staff never said it was a two-man competition between Leftwich and young Dennis Dixon, never said Batch was not in the mix. Their actions spoke louder than any words. Batch never took practice snaps with the first team in the spring or in training camp, getting few snaps at all as they concentrated on the other three. He played only as an afterthought in the preseason games, such as Sunday night when Tomlin pulled Leftwich quickly in the third quarter because he was getting hit on virtually every pass while running the second team.
Little is fair in this game, and Tomlin obviously had his reasons for freezing Batch out in the quarterback derby, but no one can fault Batch for wondering why.
"That question really is for them to answer," Batch said. "I don't know what the process was going in. All I know is at the end of the day, there weren't many reps to go around and I was the one who was shorted."
Perhaps it is Batch's age, 35, or the fact he has been injured so often. He broke his wrist in his only appearance last season late in a game at Kansas City after Roethlisberger's concussion. That injury eliminated Batch from starting the following game in Baltimore. A broken collarbone in a preseason game put him on injured reserve for 2008, which resulted in them signing Leftwich. He also missed the '04 season after knee surgery in training camp.
When Batch had to play, though, he often came through, most notably winning those two starts in '05 against Green Bay and Cleveland, and winning the opener for the defending Super Bowl champions in '06 when Roethlisberger had his appendix removed.
Yet, if he is the No. 4 quarterback he might not make the team. The Steelers will not stay with four quarterbacks when Roethlisberger returns and might be willing to roll the dice with just two until then rather than cut a promising youngster. Antwaan Randle El could always play the position in an emergency, and if someone gets hurt they could re-sign Batch -- unless the quarterback-weary Arizona Cardinals convince him to help them out in the meantime.
"Do I think I deserve a spot on this team? Absolutely I do," said Batch, who always has known the score. "Can I go back and say what's going to happen? ... Can I go up to Kevin Colbert's office and say, 'Hey, you put me on this team!'? It doesn't work that way. If that's the case, there would be a lot more people knocking on the door asking to speak to Kevin Colbert."
Another possible reason Batch did not get much work is his intimate knowledge of the offense; perhaps he was taken for granted because of it and the coaches' awareness of what he can do.
If they had any doubts about what he brings to their offense, they were reminded Sunday night in Denver. Unexpectedly thrust into that game midway through the third quarter to start a series on his 13, Batch guided the backups to a touchdown in six plays, the last one a 7-yard scoring pass to rookie Antonio Brown. He later threw an interception the Broncos returned for a touchdown when rookie receiver Emmanuel Sanders ran the wrong route.
He has thrown only six passes in the preseason, and completed four. Yet he holds out hope there still might be a chance for him.
"I only go off of what coach Tomlin said," Batch told a group of reporters Tuesday. "He said he would have an idea [who his starter would be] going into training camp and I think you all are starting to question that.
"So I don't necessarily have to deal with that. I can't because you can say one thing but obviously circumstances dictate something else. So I don't necessarily know that. For me, would I have liked him to name a starter going into training camp? Absolutely not, because that would have X-ed me out."
That's still possible, some even think a likelihood. If so, Batch had a good run in his hometown and has two Super Bowl rings to show for it.