Leftwich embraces new role as Steelers' No. 2 quarterback
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At 28, Byron Leftwich is rather young to embark on his second attempt to resurrect a football career that once appeared so promising.
The Steelers are more than happy to let him do it as their No. 2 quarterback behind Ben Roethlisberger for a year. His stay almost surely won't last longer because, even though he won't say it, he has to hope he can parlay this season with the Steelers into at least a chance to compete for a starting job again next season.
• Game: Steelers vs. Houston Texans, 1 p.m. Sunday.
• Where: Heinz Field.
• TV: KDKA.
It's why he signed for the minimum salary for one year and why the Steelers placed veteran Charlie Batch on injured reserve over the weekend rather than reach an injury settlement. The Steelers realize Leftwich likely will leave as a free agent after this season, and Batch remains in their plans after 2008.
That, however, is not programmed into Leftwich's personal GPS at the moment.
"I haven't thought that far, I can't look that far," said Leftwich as the Steelers yesterday held their first practice for the season opener Sunday against Houston at Heinz Field. "I'm trying to figure this offense out.
"This is the situation I'm in. I'm the backup quarterback. If I'm called upon, I have to be ready, and, even if I'm not, I have to do the things they need me to do to help this team win.
"I've always looked at football like that. I love this game, I take it seriously. It's nothing new. I'm just not the guy going out there right now. I'm the guy sitting in the bullpen; if something were to happen, I have to go out there."
The Steelers believe they have another playoff team and Super Bowl contender. Leftwich is the quarterback coach Mike Tomlin will hand the keys if something happens to Ben Roethlisberger. And three of Big Ben's four seasons have included games he did not play because of injuries.
As they make their way through the season, it's possible the Steelers will use their backup quarterbacks differently because of the presence of rookie Dennis Dixon and his ability to run.
After Dixon was drafted, the coaching staff discussed making him the No. 2 quarterback in games and putting Batch at No. 3. That way, Dixon could be inserted into the lineup on occasion in certain situations where his strengths at quarterback could be put to good use -- such as his 47-yard touchdown run around end on fourth-and-1 against Buffalo in the second preseason game.
In that scenario, Leftwich, in essence, would remain the No. 2 quarterback and would enter the game if something happened to Roethlisberger. Officially, however, he would be designated No. 3 on the day of games. The rule on the No. 3 quarterback is he can play in the fourth quarter, but, if he enters the game before then, he must remain the quarterback unless he's hurt. Therefore, if Roethlisberger were injured, Leftwich could play and if Leftwich were injured, they could use Dixon. If Leftwich does not play in the game, they can use Dixon all they want in those spot situations.
Neither Leftwich nor Dixon were appraised of that possibility by their coaches, but both said they understood why the Steelers might want to do it.
"I can understand that," Leftwich said. "Whatever they want to do, whatever they feel is best. If it's going to help the football team, I'll do whatever."
Said Dixon, "It makes sense. I would love to do that. I told coach Tomlin if my name's called, I want to be able to do it. If that happens, I'm ready for it."
Leftwich said he's merely happy to get the chance to spend the season with the Steelers after he was released in the summer of 2007 when Jacksonville coach Jack Del Rio turned the job he'd held the previous four years over to David Garrard.
He spent last season with the Atlanta Falcons but played only three games as ankle injuries -- he played just six games in 2006 because of them -- continued to dog him.
Going from the seventh overall draft pick in 2003 (Roethlisberger was 11th in 2004) and a four-year starter to his third team in two years has been a blow to Leftwich but not something he says he thinks much about anymore.
"It is a new situation for me, but it's something I can deal with. I'm not frustrated by it. Those are the cards I've been dealt. I just want to get ahead, do what I can to help this football team, work my tail off and whatever happens, happens."
First Published September 2, 2008 12:00 am