On the Steelers | Gameday: QB conundrum on display
The Steelers prepared their starting quarterback for 2009 by playing him in the first 38 plays of their third preseason game, the entire first half against Buffalo last August.
They will prepare their starting quarterback in their third preseason game tonight by playing him ... not at all with the first team in Denver?
Is this any way to get your quarterback ready for the start of the regular season?
Byron Leftwich did not start in the Steelers' second preseason game last Saturday night, and, not only will he not start tonight, he likely will not play until the second half with the second-string offense against the Broncos.
Yet, from all appearances, Leftwich will start at quarterback when the Steelers line up for the season opener against Atlanta Sept. 12 at Heinz Field.
The Steelers have called the game tonight in Denver a "dress rehearsal" for the regular season, and coach Mike Tomlin had them follow the routine of a regular-season week leading up to it. Traditionally, coaches use the third preseason game to play their starters longer than any other. Last year, quarterback Ben Roethlisberger and his first-team offense were on the field for all 38 plays in the first half against the Bills.
Like last year, it appears Roethlisberger will start the third preseason game tonight. He will not be preparing for the opening game of the regular season because he cannot play until at least Oct. 17 in the fifth game.
And once Roethlisberger leaves the game tonight, Tomlin plans to use third-team quarterback Dennis Dixon with the starters. So where does that leave Leftwich, the presumed starter for Sept. 12? He has not played in a real game since last September for Tampa Bay and, while Roethlisberger said he needs to build a rapport with some of the young receivers, doesn't Leftwich have to do that with all of them?
"If I'm the guy Week One, I'll be ready," Leftwich claimed "Regardless how it goes, I just have to be prepared for anything. The way things have been going we've been getting a lot of reps, everybody."
Tomlin has not said which quarterback will start Sept. 12, but his actions since spring practices began in April have pointed strongly to Leftwich. When Roethlisberger was away from the team in May, it was Leftwich who nearly always ran the first team. In training camp, Tomlin split the snaps with the first team between Roethlisberger and Leftwich for the most part with Dixon getting some on occasion.
Leftwich started the first preseason game with Dixon entering with the second team and Roethlisberger not playing. Roethlisberger started the second preseason game, Leftwich finished up with the first team and Dixon took over with the second team.
All Tomlin and offensive coordinator Bruce Arians have said is they have special packages prepared for Dixon and that they will use both quarterbacks in the games Roethlisberger will miss.
On the one hand, Leftwich, entering his eighth season and second with the Steelers after backing up Roethlisberger in 2008, said he does not need extra work in games.
"It doesn't really matter how much I play. I don't think I need these many snaps or that many snaps to get ready for when things open up. I think I'll be ready regardless how many snaps I get. That won't be an excuse when the games matter."
Yet, on the other hand, Leftwich talked about how important these games are to him, citing his 11-yard scramble up the middle against the New York Giants as an example.
"The more game situations you can be in is always good for you. It's a different feel, a different pocket presence. I don't think I could have made that run in that first game. Because you go so long without getting hit -- in practice you don't get hit, you don't get touched -- you got to make different decisions when it's real and they can hit you. You have to practice those situations."
Jeff Reed will earn the same salary whether he kicks off or punter Daniel Sepulveda holds that extra duty this season. It also might help save Reed's right leg if he only has to kick field goals and conversions.
But that's not the point.
"I've been playing football since my 12th-grade year in high school and I've never not kicked off," Reed said.
"It's one of those situations where, in my eyes, I'm being fired."
Sepulveda will kick off in Denver tonight for the second consecutive game as Tomlin seriously considers giving him that job. It's an obvious dissatisfaction with Reed's kickoffs, but Reed believes he has done a good job kicking off since he joined the Steelers in 2002 and does not accept the blame for the four kickoff returns for touchdowns against the Steelers last season.
"I'm cheering for Dan," Reed said. "It's not like I'm against him, or that I'm mad at him. It's not his fault. He's a talented guy.
"But I'm very capable of doing it, I always thought I had been. And I thought I've done pretty well, at times a little inconsistent, but that's life.
"I hate not making every kick a touchback, but it's not going to happen. I'm a hang-time kind of kicker and always have been. And I'll get a touchback here and there. It starts with me, but you also have to have a good coverage team. Teams are not going to take a knee if it does go into the end zone if your coverage team is weak."
Reed would not criticize specific teammates but said "half" those on the kickoff team last season did not want to be out there.
"I can't blame anybody, all I can say is how I kicked and you look at the four touchdowns that were given up, the kicks were fine; that wasn't the problem. But, then again, I mishit a few other ones that great plays by guys saved me. You can't pinpoint one thing.
"I just think there was a lack of discipline for the unit as a whole. When there's 11 guys out there and half of them want to play and half of them are just out there, that's what happens."
First Published August 29, 2010 12:00 am