On the Steelers: Injury elevates Batch, Dixon


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Dennis Dixon has been down this road before: An injury late in the preseason to Byron Leftwich, the No. 2 quarterback, elevates his status on the depth chart.

Just last season, Leftwich was injured in the final preseason game as he was preparing to be the starter while Ben Roethlisberger served a four-game suspension. All of a sudden, Dixon was elevated to No. 1 and became the starter for the 2010 opener against the Atlanta Falcons.

This time, though, Leftwich's injury -- a broken left arm -- might have saved Dixon's job.

Nothing is official until the Steelers resume practice today at their South Side facility, but it appears veteran Charlie Batch will move up as the No. 2 quarterback behind Roethlisberger after Leftwich was injured while scrambling on the first series of the third quarter in Saturday night's 34-16 victory against the Falcons.

That means the Steelers will probably try to get Batch plenty of work with the first and second units in the final preseason game in Carolina Thursday night. That, though, depends how much -- or how little -- some of them play.

The Steelers have not updated Leftwich's condition, but a source told the Post-Gazette his injury is not season-ending.

"It's tough," Dixon said. "That's why you got to play the preseason games. You have to have a dress rehearsal for everybody. Unfortunately, that's the way it went."

Batch did not play against the Falcons and has worked mostly with a bunch of rookie free agents in training camp. The Steelers might not want him to do that again for fear he could get injured playing behind an inexperienced offensive line.

Dixon was scheduled to receive plenty of playing time against the Falcons and Panthers, possibly in an attempt to showcase and trade the fourth-year quarterback. Dixon is an unrestricted free agent after the season and the Steelers believe he wants to play for a team where he would at least be the No. 2 quarterback.

"I got to be able to go forward and, being the competitor I am, it's a competition out there," Dixon said. "All I can do is control the next game and that's Carolina. It's out of my hands. All I can do is control what I can do."

Leftwich's injury put a damper on what was an impressive victory against the Falcons, which featured a lot of good and very little bad for the Steelers.

The Good

• Wide receiver Antonio Brown caught touchdown passes of 77 and 44 yards and, in each instance, ran the correct pattern -- something he doesn't always do as he continues to learn his assignments. Emmanuel Sanders, who has missed the preseason, is a better route-runner and a more polished receiver than Brown, even though both are second-year players. But offensive coordinator Bruce Arians knows he will have a hard time keeping Brown off the field, even with Sanders, Hines Ward and Mike Wallace in front of him.

• Rookie left tackle Marcus Gilbert made his first start for injured Jonathan Scott and, by all accounts, fared very well against Atlanta's John Abraham, a three-time All-Pro defensive end who had 13 sacks a year ago. Gilbert, a No. 2 draft choice from Florida, has come on quickly after reporting to training camp overweight and out of shape. "I have to stay humble," Gilbert said.

• Another interception by a cornerback, this time a 95-yard return for touchdown by Crezdon Butler, a fifth-round pick in 2010. Granted, the intended receiver, Kerry Meier, slipped coming out of his cut. But Butler was still in good position to break on the sideline throw and race untouched to the end zone. That was good news for Butler, who is in a battle for what might be the sixth and final cornerback spot on the roster. And it was good news for a secondary that has six interceptions in three games after finishing the 2010 season with 21, second most in the AFC.

• Tight end David Johnson, known more as a punishing blocker, caught passes of 16 and 17 yards on consecutive plays to demonstrate what he might have to do as the No. 2 tight end -- a role he will assume after being the H-back/fullback his first two seasons.

The bad

• Pro Bowl outside linebacker James Harrison, who admitted he is out of football shape because two offseason back surgeries have limited his practice time, was unable to chase down quarterback Matt Ryan as he scrambled out of the pocket toward the sideline. Harrison was in a half-trot and out of gas as Ryan ran for 8 yards to the Steelers 2. "Like he was running in mud," said linebacker coach Keith Butler.

• The left ankle injury to Pro Bowl center Maurkice Pouncey, the same ankle he injured when he missed the Super Bowl. Pouncey, though, should be OK, but it is unlikely he will play in Carolina.

• Cornerbacks William Gay and Donovan Warren were beaten on a deep pass to rookie wide receiver Julio Jones, the Falcons' No. 1 draft choice. But Jones dropped the ball in the end zone on what would have been a 51-yard touchdown pass.


Gerry Dulac: gdulac@post-gazette.com ; twitter: @gerrydulac First Published August 29, 2011 4:00 AM


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