The Steelers have not yet announced if they will start Charlie Batch, left, or Byron Leftwich at quarterback Sunday against Tampa Bay.
By Ed Bouchette Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
What began this season with the new soap opera As the Quarterback Turns morphed into multiple episodes of As the Quarterbacks' Knees Turn.
Maybe it's a good thing for his long-range health that Ben Roethlisberger cannot play the first month of the season, because he cannot injure a knee, not unless he is following the Willie Colon offseason workout routine.
The state of the Steelers' situation is such that coach Mike Tomlin meant it when he said Tuesday that "from a health standpoint, we'll take it," even after he announced that "starting" quarterback Dennis Dixon would have knee surgery this morning and that the Steelers likely lost another starting offensive lineman for the game Sunday in more 90-degree heat at Tampa Bay.
Tomlin said that he fully expects not only quarterback Byron Leftwich to be ready to play after missing two games with his knee injury, but he might start him. The coach also said he will welcome the return of two other starters who missed the fun in the sun at Tennessee, offensive left tackle Max Starks and nose tackle Casey Hampton.
The new offensive lineman likely to sit out the game Sunday is right guard Trai Essex, whose sprained ankle was in a boot while he was on crutches Tuesday. Doug Legursky would replace him.
As for the quarterbacks, the Steelers will have two at the ready in Tampa and no more: Leftwich and Charlie Batch. They worked out three quarterbacks this week -- former Southern California quarterback John David Booty, released by the Houston Texans this year; Levi Brown, formerly with Buffalo, and Jarrett Brown, formerly of WVU. But they do not plan to sign a quarterback either to their 53-man roster or practice squad before the Tampa game.
That leaves Leftwich, Batch and Antwaan Randle El, if necessary.
Tomlin said he does not expect Leftwich's knee to be an issue.
"He's been able to comfortably get through some workouts. Now, workouts are different than practice, of course, and games, particularly the unanticipated movements that come with football, but we feel comfortable with where he is."
Tomlin wants to see both quarterbacks in practice before he picks his starter.
"You've got to say Charlie's in the pole position, because he's got a clean bill of health at this point. We don't anticipate Byron's health being an issue, but you at least at this point in the week acknowledge that that could be a factor in determining how the reps sort out and who ultimately plays."
Whoever it is, though, needs to take most of the practice snaps with the first team this week because neither has taken any practice snaps with the first team since the start of the season.
Batch has not been the starting quarterback -- he was fourth in training camp and third until Leftwich's injury. Dixon started the first two games.
And Leftwich has been out since his Sept. 2 knee injury, returning to practice in a limited manner last week.
Tomlin even cited Batch's lack of snaps with the first team for a few botched snaps with starting center Maurkice Pouncey in Tennessee.
Game roster hard to figure
The Steelers dressed the usual seven offensive linemen in Tennessee, but, with at least three having problems with the heat, with four of the five leaving the game at one point or another, and with the weather expected to be just as hot in Tampa, Tomlin will consider dressing eight linemen.
"We have the same issues with our defensive line if they can't get off the field. It wasn't an issue with our defense in the last game because we created turnovers. So, those are natural issues and questions you ask yourself as a head coach going into a game. The reality is you can't carry extra bodies at all positions.
"So, based on the matchup, our level of comfort in our preparedness, our health, those are the things that will determine where we distribute the helmets."
Thicker skin needed
Many times, Tomlin has talked about how he does not read nor listen to accounts about his team in the media. He has called it "elevator music." Yet after the game Sunday, he bristled about things he said were reported about his team.
"We're a little bit annoyed to be quite honest about our premature reporting of our death," Tomlin said.
He explained that apparent dichotomy Tuesday.
"We are emotional beings and, sometimes, we lose out to that. It was probably unwarranted, really, but that's where I was at that point. It's a tough game. It requires a lot. You've got to put in a lot. You've got to be 10 toes into this thing to win, and, at times, things that shouldn't annoy you annoy you because of that fact.
"GMAC, awesome man, we've got a great relationship with them. But we were their Never Say Never Moment of the Week candidate a week ago because we won our home opener. We kind of took offense to that. Such is life in our league. We're going to try to have a thicker skin and proceed with our business this week, and I'm talking about myself."
Emmanuel Sanders has returned to health, but an early plan to alternate him and fellow rookie Antonio Brown on the active roster each game probably was thwarted by Brown's 89-yard touchdown return in Tennessee. "He made a pretty good case for himself," Tomlin said. ... Rookie linebacker Jason Worilds also will return after missing last week with a thigh bruise. He led the team with three special-teams tackles in the opener. Fellow rookie linebacker Stevenson Sylvester holds the lead now with four. ... Tomlin said Dixon likely was injured on his 21-yard scramble in the third quarter.