Steelers Notebook: 2 series just enough for Batch to prove he's worthy backup


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CHARLOTTE. N.C. -- Charlie Batch finally got a chance to play with someone other than rookie free agents and looked very much like a quarterback ready to be the top backup to Ben Roethlisberger.

On a night in which Roethlisberger was one of 11 starters held out by coach Mike Tomlin, Batch started and led the Steelers to a touchdown on their opening possession in a 33-17 preseason victory Thursday night against the Carolina Panthers.

"This is the last time that I may get the reps with the ones in a long time and you have to take advantage of it," Batch said. "You know the guys that are going to be playing on a regular basis are going to be watching you and you have to have the mindset that, hey, if something happens, you can count on me."

Batch played two series and completed 6 of 8 passes for 59 yards. It looked as if he might even have had a touchdown pass when he connected with Mike Wallace on a crossing pass from the Carolina 11 on the opening drive.

But Wallace fumbled as he was being tackled at the 1 and tight end David Johnson recovered in the end zone for a touchdown.

"One of the things I wanted to do was go out there and help put the team in the end zone and that's what we were able to do," said Batch, 36, who enters his 14th season. "That's the way you want to open the game -- drive 80 yards for a touchdown. It really did feel good."

Batch played only two series and was replaced by Dennis Dixon, but he made quick decisions and looked efficient in his first outing playing behind the first-team offensive line that was minus Pro Bowl center Maurkice Pouncey.

It was just what the Steelers wanted to see from Batch, who will be the No. 2 quarterback after Byron Leftwich broke his left arm last week against the Atlanta Falcons. Batch, though, said he has not been told he will be the top backup.

"That's what you want when you have your opportunity, not just from a player's standpoint but trying to impress the coach as well, that he is comfortable enough to put you in there," Batch said. "Those are some of the things that I was making sure, that those guys feel comfortable if that's the case."

Not that Dixon didn't play well in relief. He came on in the second quarter and led the Steelers to two touchdowns and three field goals, including a 15-yard touchdown to tight end Weslye Saunders. After missing his first three passes, Dixon finished 10 of 20 for 152 yards.

Starters sit

Cornerback Ike Taylor (thumb), receiver Jerricho Cotchery (hamstring) and rookie outside linebacker Chris Carter (hamstring) were already declared out of the game because of injuries.

Tomlin also elected to not use Pouncey, who injured his ankle against the Falcons. With backup center Doug Legursky now the starter at right guard, tackle/guard Trai Essex started at center against the Panthers.

But that wasn't all.

Tomlin held out receiver Hines Ward, running back Rashard Mendenhall and tight end Heath Miller on offense and safety Troy Polamalu, linebackers James Harrison and James Farrior, nose tackle Casey Hampton, defensive end Aaron Smith and cornerback Bryant McFadden on defense.

McFadden did not appear in any preseason game because of what Tomlin said is a combination hamstring/groin injury.

Sanders shines

Wide receiver Emmanuel Sanders, who did not play in the previous three preseason games while recovering from foot surgery, started against the Panthers and looked as if he never missed a day of training camp.

Sanders started in a three wide receiver set with Wallace and Antonio Brown and caught four passes for 60 yards in the first half, including a 33-yard catch-and-run on the sideline to set up Shaun Suisham's 31-yard field goal with 18 seconds remaining.

"It felt good to catch a couple balls; I wish I could have scored with a couple of those balls," Sanders said. "It meant a lot to me [to play]. I have to go out and prove myself and show my teammates I can play my role and make some catches."

Until he practiced last week, Sanders had not been on the field since the second day of training camp because the bone in his left foot was slow to heal after surgery. He said the bone is still fractured.

"I definitely wanted to test it and it actually feels good," Sanders said. "I didn't hurt it and it doesn't feel sore."

Dwyer locks up spot

Not that it was ever in question, but Jonathan Dwyer cemented his spot as the No. 4 running back with a 50-yard touchdown run in the second quarter. And it was no ordinary run.

Dwyer, a sixth-round pick in 2010, made two Carolina defenders miss, then cut inside safety Sean Considine to outrace everyone to the end zone. He finished as the leading rusher with 88 yards on 13 carries.

Good first impressions

Rookie cornerback Cortez Allen, the team's fourth-round pick, made his first play of the preseason a good one.

After missing most of training camp with a nagging hamstring injury, Allen entered the game for the first time and tipped a deep pass for wide receiver Armanti Edwards that was intercepted by safety Will Allen.

Kicking game

Jeremy Kapinos, who punted the final seven games last season when Daniel Sepulveda went on injured reserve, looked like a player who should be a candidate for the 53-man roster. Kapinos had back-to-back punts of 63 yards in the first half and was the holder for Suisham's field goals of 52 and 31 yards. Sepulveda had the only punt in the second half.


Gerry Dulac: gdulac@post-gazette.com and Twitter @gerrydulac.


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