The Steelers are in an interesting situation this offseason with their Quarterbacks. Certainly Ben Roethlisberger’s job is safe, but all 3 reserve Quarterbacks are free agents and while the team figures to bring back at least one of them, which do you choose? It’s been status quo for years now with Charlie Batch as the primary backup but perhaps it’s time to go in another direction; or is it?
Byron Leftwich: When the Steelers brought him back to Pittsburgh in 2010, the eventual plan was likely to have him continue as the primary backup to Big Ben when Charlie Batch retired. Things haven’t quite worked out for Leftwich though as a knee injury in 2010 and a broken arm in preseason 2011 ended his year on the active roster.
When he’s able to be on the field Byron is a solid backup but how much can the team count on him to stay healthy enough to backup Ben should the need arise?
Charlie Batch: Always a fan favorite, the western PA native just performs when called upon. His only significant action in 2011 came against St. Louis when he put on a solid display going 15-22 for 208 yds. That’s not a bad thing though; if Charlie is on the field more that means Roethlisberger isn’t able to go so as long as he’s healthy and on the sidelines, things are going as planned. If the Steelers were a team that was able to put the opponent away early then maybe he gets more game time but we know that’s not generally how things go in Pittsburgh.
Batch will start his 15th NFL season if the Steelers bring him back for 2012.
Dennis Dixon: Basically a foregone conclusion that he’ll be elsewhere in 2012. Kevin Colbert suggested as much during his media session at the NFL Scouting Combine. “I think being a young quarterback, I anticipate Dennis will [test the market], and I anticipate Dennis will have a lot of interest around the league. I don’t think the league has seen the best of Dennis Dixon yet only because he’s been behind a great quarterback and he’s been held back by some injuries. Even coming into the league he’s been behind the eight-ball with the knee injury like he had.”
Dixon tried to test the league before last season but got little interest from any team looking for a starting QB or even a primary backup. He eventually signed his 1 yr. tender and reported to training camp but most feel he’ll try to find work elsewhere next season.
Troy Smith: The Steelers signed him to a reserve contract earlier this offseason and he’ll have a chance to compete for the 3rd QB position. Had it not been for an injury, he was slated to start for Baltimore but that never materialized and Joe Flacco took over and never looked back. Smith has NFL experience and is very athletic but struggles with his accuracy. Given the right situation and coaching he could still be a viable backup in the NFL.
You have to figure that the team will most likely bring back at least 1 of the 3 next year but as Colbert also mentioned, they could bring back both Leftwich and Batch. That wouldn’t be a bad situation either, having two veteran QB’s available to step in right away and already know the offense is more than most teams in the league could ask for. It’s been the status quo for so long now it would almost not feel right having Charlie at least on the sidelines. He and Ben have a great rapport and considering that good ole #16 has been relatively healthy he would the most likely choice to retain. Having been in the league as long as he has and being so involved in the community of Pittsburgh he would most likely just retire rather than go elsewhere anyway.
There are some options in the upcoming NFL draft if the Steelers want to bring in a fresh face to groom for the future:
Austin Davis: Southern Miss – Height: 6-2. Weight: 220. Could drop as low as the 6th round and regarded as a sleeper pick that could turn into a solid NFL passer with some coaching and development. Good strength and accuracy and a tough mentality make him a potential candidate.
Ryan Nassib: Syracuse – Height: 6-2. Weight: 229. Had a solid year last season completing 62% of his passes and threw for 22 touchdowns. Nassib is a big player who can scramble when needed and could be a solid QB with some training at the professional level. Could fall to the 6th round.
John Brantley: Florida: Height 6-3. Weight: 217. Started out last season in promising fashion but got injured and never recovered enough to have a competitive year. His durability is a question mark but as a 7th round pick or UDFA he might be worth a look.
Overall I would say it’s a safe bet that Charlie Batch returns, probably signing a one or two year deal. After that things are up in the air. With the addition of Troy Smith, that could be what ultimately pushes Leftwich off the roster. I say “could” because Smith has had chances and not been able to take hold of his future enough to stay with 1 team so there’s no guarantee he does anything but I like his chances in the Steelers system.