OK, Ben Roethlisberger is back. Now who is the No. 2 quarterback? Charlie Batch or Byron Leftwich?
Batch started the past two games and finished the final three quarters of the season's second game. Leftwich, groomed all spring and summer to start the season in Roethlisberger's absence, has not played a down in the regular season because of his sprained MCL.
It has been more than five weeks since that injury occurred on Sept. 2 and Leftwich served as the No. 2 quarterback the past two games behind Batch. If Leftwich is healthy, will Mike Tomlin move him past Batch into No. 2?
Batch did not practice last week, one of five older veterans Tomlin gave off. Yet, he's the only quarterback on the roster who has played through the first four games. Dennis Dixon was placed on injured reserve after surgery to repair a torn lateral meniscus in his left knee, a move he resisted. Dixon has been walking around, attending practices and looking as if he could return to play in a week.
So, do you go with the quarterback who has played through the first four games? Or the one you deemed your temporary starter?
It would be no surprise if Tomlin goes with Batch as his No. 2 against Cleveland next Sunday. After that, who knows? The more time for Leftwich's knee to heal before he might be needed in a game, the better. He also would still be available as the No. 3 quarterback.
The bigger move by Tomlin and the Steelers is their obvious intent to have Leftwich serve as their new Batch in future seasons. At 30, he is five years younger than Batch. Like Batch, he has a good attitude about playing behind Roethlisberger and, after last year's short term as the starter in Tampa, Leftwich no longer sees greener pastures. He knows Roethlsiberger will be No. 1 here for a while.
"I understand that," Leftwich said. "Everybody understands that. You understand that going into it, but I'm telling you, man, it's so much fun and exciting playing for an organization like this."
Leftwich has a 24-25 record as a starter and he looked forward to moving that into winning territory by starting the season for the Steelers. That ended against Carolina, when his knee was sprained.
"It's been frustrating because I had a real good feeling about this team and what we could do. When we lost Ben, you knew there would be a lot of doubters questioning our team, questioning are we good enough, are we capable enough.
"To be honest, I wanted to be the guy in there ... because I felt real good about this team. You win a whole lot of ways in the game of football, and football is the ultimate team game. But injuries happen and you accept it."
What does a three-time Pro Bowl linebacker do when given a three-day weekend off during the season? If you are James Harrison, you relax by ... by ... by ...
"I am going to go and hunt a bison," Harrison said.
Like Buffalo Bill? Actually, Bill was joining Harrison for the bison hunt -- his agent, Bill Parise. They were heading "somewhere north of here." Buffalo, N.Y., perhaps?
Hunting bison was not exactly on Harrison's bucket list. More like his grocery list.
"It's good meat," said Harrison, who has bison meat delivered to his house, arrangements he said Parise made.
What kind of meat?
"You get hamburger, steaks, roasts, hot dogs, jerky. You get a little bit of everything," Harrison said, noting that one bison is "almost 600 pounds of beef."
That's two small offensive tackles worth, and Harrison has been known to polish them off without a gun. This time, though, he was taking his 50 caliber military sniper's rifle to the 400-acre range, where he also hoped to bring home a pig.
"We'll be in and out and back before lunch."
The players made their point loud and clear during their meeting with their union leader Wednesday: No 18-game schedule.
"We told them we don't want it," said wide receiver Antwaan Randle El, who was the union player rep for the Redskins before he re-signed with the Steelers. "It's understood; we don't go to 18 games."
DeMaurice Smith, executive director of the NFL Players Association, has been meeting with players around the league and taking votes on decertifying the union. The Steelers were the latest to unanimously vote to decertify, seen as a procedural advantage for the players should the owners lock them out after the collective bargaining agreement expires in March.
Before that vote occurred, however, players spoke their minds and their main point was they do not want to play 18 games, something commissioner Roger Goodell and the owners have been pushing hard.
"Just sitting here talking to a bunch of players, that's what everybody's talking about," quarterback Byron Leftwich said. "People are more worried about playing two more games than a lockout. We feel at some point it's going to get restarted and guys don't want to play 18 games."
Many of those reasons were presented here last Sunday, mostly injuries. Randle El said there are many more, such as when a veteran will become vested, which guarantees him certain rights. Now, it is four seasons (three seasons, plus three games in the fourth season). At the moment, those seasons are 16 games.
"If we go to 18 games, when does a player become vested?" Randle El asked.
Increased injuries, though, are at the crux of the matter for the players.
"I don't see how we can preach safety. ... All these guys getting these concussions and we weant to preach safety!" Leftwich said.
"We have lot of commercials about concussions and preaching safety. You don't practice safety by adding two more games. You don't do that, it's just too tough on the human body."
Ed Bouchette can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org .