On the Steelers: Signals Crossed?
Byron Leftwich is taken down by Detroit's Kyle Vanden Bosch in the first quarter of the Steelers' 23-7 preseason victory Saturday night.
Isaac Redman (one touchdown and three first downs) looked like the best running back on the field Saturday against Detroit.
Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, shown here hugging teammate Ike Taylor before the start of the preseason game against Detroit at Heinz Field Saturday night, did not play and was mainly a source of encouragement on the sidelines.
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The Steelers have had a quarterback controversy since March 5. Now they might have a more traditional one, if anything can be called traditional about the position for them this year.
Except when Ben Roethlisberger was in there, Byron Leftwich virtually ran all of the first-team practices in training camp after running most of them in the spring. The Steelers acquired him from Tampa Bay to start while Roethlisberger serves his minimum four-game suspension to open the regular season.
Coach Mike Tomlin was quoted in his own team's newspaper, Steelers Digest, in the spring that he would have his starting quarterback in place by the start of training camp. That is further evidence that Leftwich is that man.
But Tomlin so far has refused to state that Leftwich is his starting quarterback, and Dennis Dixon refuses to believe the door is closed to him. Saturday night, Dixon made his case and, if he continues to play the way he did against the Lions, that case may not be closed.
Dixon rang up a perfect passer rating of 158.3 by completing 6 of 7 passes for 128 yards that included a short pass to rookie Antonio Brown who turned it into a 68-yard touchdown. His production came against the Lions' backups, but it also came playing with the Steelers' backups. Dixon also ran six times for 31 yards that included a touchdown until referee Jeff Triplette reluctantly overturned it.
Leftwich completed 6 of 10 passes for 43 yards and was the victim of shoddy pass protection and a poor ground game that included one fumble each by running backs Rashard Mendenhall and Mewelde Moore in each of the first two series.
"We weren't clicking very well," Leftwich said. "That happens in the first preseason game. Good thing we got three more, I hope they don't cut it down to two. You need all four."
What Tomlin will do at quarterback the next three games should be fascinating. How can he work Roethlisberger in with the first team, get Leftwich ready to start and perhaps still give Dixon an outside shot to make his case? There are not enough first-team repetitions to go around.
But who is to say he even needs to pick a starting quarterback for the first four games? This is not picking a starter and sticking with him under normal circumstances. Coaches do not like to jump back and forth between or even among starters because it creates division in the locker room and controversy everywhere.
Yet this is only for the first four games of the season. After that, it's Roethlisberger's team. Why can't Tomlin bounce between Leftwich and Dixon during that time, go with the hot hand (or legs) and make it that much more difficult for defenses to prepare. Chuck Noll did it for an entire season in 1974 and won the franchise's first Super Bowl. Tomlin certainly could do it for four games.
Tomlin did not have much to say about the most productive receiver on the field Saturday night. Brown turned Dixon's 8-yard pass on a crossing pattern into a 68-yard touchdown. He caught all three passes thrown his way for 84 yards. No other wide receiver caught more than one, with Arnaz Battle hauling in a Dixon pass for 51 yards.
Brown's performance elicited this muted response from Tomlin: "Nice start."
Maybe the coach does not want it to go to his rookie's head. The Steelers do have a slight dilemma at wide receiver. They have six of them who look like keepers and if they keep all six, return specialist Stefan Logan must go.
The six are Hines Ward, Mike Wallace, Antwaan Randle El, Battle, Brown and fellow rookie Emmanuel Sanders.
Logan, who made the team as a specialist a year ago, has an uphill fight to keep that job and did not help himself in the first preseason game. He averaged 15 yards on two less-than-impressive kick returns, hesitating on the first and letting the ball bounce before he fielded the second. He might not get many more chances, either, because the Steelers need to find a replacement for him in the return game -- unless they plan to release one of those six wide receivers.
Isaac Redman, the fans' choice a year ago, will be the coaches' choice this season. Redman looked like the best running back on the field Saturday night and showed he can be more than "Red Zone," the nickname he picked up for his goal-line skills a year ago.
Redman did perform those skills well again Saturday. He scored from the 1, burrowing off left guard. And he picked up three first downs in short-yardage carries -- 4 yards on third-and-2, 5 yards on third-and-1, and 3 yards on second-and-2.
He displayed other talents as well. Redman took a screen pass on second-and-15 and ran 13 yards with it. He added a twisting, 51-yard run in which he made three tacklers miss.
Tomlin was not so muted when speaking of the undrafted second-year back from Bowie State.
"He played similarly to how he's played in training camp. He's been very consistent. He has a personality, he is a downhill guy, he's patient, he has good vision, he finds holes, he finishes plays. So it's very encouraging."
• The offensive line did not get off to a good start. Leftwich was under siege from the Lions' first-team defense and tackle Flozell Adams looked as though he needs more time to adjust to the right-tackle position after playing left tackle for nearly his entire career.
• Forget that Triplette or another official used blue language to ridicule the instant-replay official in the booth (who somehow has gone nameless), they were right on target with their criticism. With a monsoon raining down, with lightning on the way, in a meaningless preseason game (which the NFL believes are so important it wants to reduce the games in half), the dry guy upstairs in the booth decided to take the extra time to make sure Dixon's knee did not hit the ground before he reached the end zone.
• It looks as though, with rookie Stevenson Sylvester, the Steelers may have to keep nine linebackers.
First Published August 16, 2010 12:00 am