Coach Tomlin picks youth over experience for suspended Roethlisberger's spot at QB, says 'whole playbook' will be available
September 7, 2010 8:00 AM
Quarterback Dennis Dixon will start Sunday against the Falcons at Heinz Field.
By Ed Bouchette Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
Dennis Dixon will start the season at quarterback for the Steelers, but it might be sooner rather than later that injured Byron Leftwich can play again.
Coach Mike Tomlin revealed his choice of quarterbacks -- which came after a good internal debate with his staff -- following a Monday practice in which Dixon took all the snaps with the first team and Charlie Batch conducted the second offense.
Watching from the sideline was Leftwich, who departed in the second quarter of the final preseason game Thursday with a second-degree sprain of the MCL in his left knee. That injury took him out of the job of starting at quarterback while Ben Roethlisberger serves his NFL suspension the first four games. The prognosis the day after Leftwich's injury was he would miss two to four weeks, but it might not sideline him much longer.
Tomlin said Leftwich will be listed as "doubtful" and not out of the opener Sunday against the Atlanta Falcons at Heinz Field. Leftwich hopes to return to play by the second game at Tennessee.
"It's extremely early in the week, but I feel comfortable categorizing him as doubtful at this point," Tomlin said. "I don't know if it's a rehab-type thing. It's more about when he's ready and able to go and is stable. I'm sure they're going to brace it in some form, and that's why I'm not ruling him out. I'm saying he's doubtful."
• Game: Steelers vs. Atlanta Falcons.
• When: 1 p.m. Sunday.
• Where: Heinz Field.
• TV: WPGH.
What the coach said is not doubtful is the playbook available to Dixon. Unlike their approach when Dixon started Nov. 29 at Baltimore for an injured Roethlisberger, the Steelers will not limit the playbook Sunday. Tomlin said the "whole playbook" would be available.
"We're talking about a guy going into his third year," Tomlin said.
Wide receiver Hines Ward, elected by his teammates for the sixth consecutive season as an offensive captain, said before practice that if Dixon were the quarterback, the playbook would have to be limited.
"If it's Dennis, we have to treat him the same way we did Ben when he first [started] -- condense our playbook to where he understands it good, just try to go out there and not do too much.
"For us wideouts, we have to go out there and help him, we have to make the hard catches and we have to make the routine plays. He gains confidence as the game grows. One thing he has that you can't teach is his athleticism and his speed."
Dixon insisted he has learned much since his only start and only his second appearance in two seasons with the Steelers.
"I feel real focused, I feel mentally focused in the game. This game is based on that. The No. 1 thing for me is the communication, just getting the feel for the guys and stuff like that as far as practice. I'm going to take practice very seriously. ... The playbook is totally wide open."
Batch obviously was disappointed Tomlin did not choose him, but also typically supportive.
"I would love to be out there, but right now I'm into the role I've always been and that's one snap away from being ready to go, and, either way, I'll be ready to go," Batch said.
Tomlin Monday cited Batch's history of injuries as to why he took so few snaps in training camp behind Roethlisberger, Leftwich and Dixon.
"A factor in that pecking order was Charlie's durability leading up to that point, or lack of durability. He's a guy who's been on IR a little bit the last couple of years, and that was one of the reasons he was third in the pecking order," Tomlin said.
Dixon made only one other brief appearance other than his start at Baltimore, at the end of his rookie season against Cleveland when he threw one pass.
"It's every quarterback's dream to get an opportunity to start in the National Football League," Dixon said Monday. "My number's called now, I'm going to have fun with it, I'm happy, then again there's a lot of work to be had."
Practice squad is filled
The Steelers announced their eight-man practice squad for the 2010 season.
The players signed to the Steelers' practice squad are tight end Eugene Bright, offensive guard Dorian Brooks, safety Da'Mon Cromartie-Smith, wide receiver Tyler Grisham, offensive tackle Kyle Jolly, defensive tackle Steve McLendon, fullback Frank Summers and defensive end Doug Worthington.
The Steelers named only four captains for 2010, dropping three from last season and adding one, tight end Heath Miller. The three no longer captains are Roethlisberger, Jeff Reed and James Harrison.
Joining Miller as captains are holdovers James Farrior, Hines Ward and special-teams captain Keyaron Fox.
Tomlin said Bryant McFadden will return to play after sitting out the final two preseason games with a pectoral muscle injury. ... All those who did not play in the final preseason game are ready to go, too, including linebackers Farrior and Harrison and receiver Antwaan Randle El. ... The Steelers rarely dress six wide receivers for games, but, if rookie Antonio Brown is to be their punt and kickoff return man, they likely will. "Antonio Brown is a candidate for both, and he's supported by two savvy veterans -- Antwaan Randle El in the punt-return category and Mewelde Moore in the kickoff-return category," Tomlin said. "If we choose to play him, he'll be the return man. If not, those two guys will handle it."