Steelers vs. Colts: QBs Batch, Johnson jump into spotlight today
Charlie Batch, seen here in action in December, backs up Ben Roethlisberger tonight against the Colts knowing he's fighting for a job -- again -- going into his 15th NFL season. The Heinz Field game starts at 8 p.m.
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So these preseason games are meaningless and they should reduce them from four to two to avoid injuries and get on with the regular season?
Tell that to young players on the brink of making it or not in this new era of limited practices and hitting in training camps with expanded rosters. These games, such as the one tonight between the Steelers and Indianapolis Colts at Heinz Field, can mean everything to them.
Charlie Batch knows that. He finds himself again competing for a job in his 15th training camp at the same time he is trying to help others compete for one. He will follow quarterback Ben Roethlisberger in the rotation tonight after not playing in Philadelphia. Byron Leftwich will rest tonight.
As the No. 2 quarterback, Batch will throw footballs to youngsters trying to make an impression with their limited opportunities on a team still searching for a fifth wide receiver. He does not hold that responsibility lightly.
"That's part of my job," Batch, 37, said. "This is the time to go out there and show what you can do on the field and put it on film because the guy who is going to be throwing you the ball, Ben, is watching you on the sideline."
Batch has thrown to plenty of young receivers who did make it, such as Santonio Holmes, Antonio Brown, Emmanuel Sanders and Mike Wallace.
"That's something over the years I've had to do even when Santonio was a rookie in 2006," Batch said. "Ben was watching him in that situation. Guys who were growing with Antonio, with Emmanuel, with those guys over the past offseasons, they were getting those reps out there with me. Now Ben has to continue to trust those receivers to be on the right page. I'm the person that, if errors are made, mistakes are made, they are made with me. In live action, you can't afford those mistakes."
Receivers such as David Gilreath, Toney Clemons, Tyler Beiler, Derrick Williams, Jimmy Young, Paul Cox and Juamorris Stewart are looking for that final seat at the wide receiver table, and they can stake a claim with a play or two tonight. Beiler caught one pass for 30 yards in Philadelphia, and Gilreath has come back from an infection to catch some coaches' attention. None, though, has stood out enough through camp and the first preseason game to nail down anything.
It's not just the fifth spot at wide receiver, either, it could be enough to have the Steelers keep them on the practice squad or impress another team to do so.
Batch, too, has personal goals. He wants to be No. 2, a job many assume belongs to Byron Leftwich.
"You never know how things are going to play out. My goal right now -- obviously, I can't be the starter, but I want to be the next guy off the bench. You want to show the coach that he can count on me."
Neither Batch nor Leftwich missed a practice this summer, nor took a "veterans" day off, even though Batch is the most veteran player on the roster.
"I can't afford to miss practice time," Batch said, "because, obviously, the reps go to the next guy."
Jerrod Johnson beat out Ryan Tannehill to start at quarterback for Texas A&M in '09 and '10, when he was the preseason Big 12 Conference offensive player of the year and mentioned as a possible Heisman Trophy candidate.
That spring, however, he had surgery on his right shoulder, and that fall he just wasn't the same. Tannehill, who played well at wide receiver for the Aggies after losing out in the competition with Johnson, replaced him at quarterback, and the results could not have been more diverse for both. Johnson, a year ahead of Tannehill, went undrafted in '11, signed with Philadelphia and was cut after two weeks of camp. Miami made Tannehill the eighth overall pick in '12.
Tonight, Johnson will continue to try to make the most of another chance in the NFL when he follows Batch . Against the Eagles, he completed 3 of 6 passes for 93 yards and one touchdown.
"Any time you get a chance to play under the lights in a Steelers jersey, it's important, and, hopefully I can translate the things I've been doing in practice in the game," Johnson said.
He has looked impressive at times this summer at Saint Vincent College in Latrobe, but not consistent. He has good size at 6 feet 5, 251 pounds and a strong arm.
"I think I've had a good camp. All I can do is make sure every play I have is positive and productive and hope I stack up enough of those to build a resume. I think I've done pretty well, but, at the end of the day, it's up to them."
Virtually every NFL team keeps three quarterbacks. Some, such as the Steelers, have carried three on their 53-man rosters and none on the practice squad. Others keep two on the 53, one on the practice squad. Rarely are there four because there is not enough work in regular-season practices for a fourth quarterback.
Johnson thinks the shoulder surgery derailed what might have been the senior season everyone predicted for him, and, perhaps, a better start in the pros, but he does not sound bitter.
"That took me a couple years to get back into playing shape and doing things I felt comfortable doing again. But I definitely feel back now. It was disappointing, it was very hard for me with the success I had and for it to happen at the timing it did -- senior year, combine, draft time."
There will be another young quarterback attracting attention tonight as will the man calling his plays.
Andrew Luck, the No. 1 pick overall, had an outstanding debut. He completed 10 of 16 passes against the St. Louis Rams for 188 yards and two touchdowns last week. His first pass, a short one to Donald Brown, ended in a 63-yard score.
"There's a lot of pressure," Steelers linebacker Larry Foote said. "We know we don't want him coming in and lighting us up, especially on Sunday night. We'll see it the whole next week because they keep showing what he did to the Rams. He looks good, the No. 1 pick, it'll be a challenge to us."
Luck's coordinator is Bruce Arians, who held that job with the Steelers for five seasons before being replaced by Todd Haley. Foote has no doubt that Arians wants to showcase his new quarterback and offense tonight at Heinz Field.
And he thinks he might have something in store for his friend, linebackers coach Keith Butler, who turned down an offer to join him as Colts defensive coordinator.
"Oh, yeah, especially the linebackers," Foote said. "I know he wants to throw little wrinkles at us. He and Butz have a big-time rivalry going. I hope we can put on a show."
Game: Steelers vs. Indianapolis Colts, 8:00 p.m., Heinz Field.
First Published August 19, 2012 12:49 am