Quarterback Byron Leftwich will serve as Ben Roethlisberger’s backup the entire season unless two things happen: Rookie Dennis Dixon progresses tremendously before the start of the season, and Charlie Batch heals quickly.
Batch had surgery last week to replace a broken right clavicle that was to keep him out at the very minimum a month. Leftwich was signed to replace him and given a minimum one-year contract of $605,000, plus a $40,000 signing bonus. He’ll count $445,000 against the salary cap if the Steelers keep him. If he remains on the team by the first game Sept. 7, they must pay his entire salary.
They must decide if they are better off with Leftwich, 28, backing up Ben Roethlisberger on what they believe is a Super Bowl contender, or have some patience that Batch, 33, their longtime veteran backup will be ready to play some time in September.
Dixon will make the roster and they could even use him in some roles the way they did last Thursday against Buffalo. On fourth-and-one, Dixon ran a bootleg around right end and was never touched on the way to a 47-yard touchdown run.
The guess is that they will put Batch on injured reserve and keep Leftwich. They also could trade Leftwich and get something in return, essentially for nothing.
“Byron was a No. 1 pick, the seventh overall in the draft,” said Steelers quarterbacks coach Ken Anderson, who coached Leftwich for three seasons in Jacksonville. “He’s started in the league, won games in the league. We’re happy to have him here to kind of bail us out.”
It was somewhat of a mystery that Leftwich, released by Atlanta in February, remained unsigned until the Steelers brought him to Latrobe Aug. 10. He practiced the next day and played Aug. 14 against Buffalo.
“I was impressed simply by the fact he’s a quick study,” coach Mike Tomlin said. “He was able to step out there, step in the huddle, spew the verbiage out, get people lined up actually and deliver the ball around. He’s a very sharp guy, that’s obvious.”
Leftwich completed his first pass for 24 yards against the Bills but went five of 11 and nearly lost a fumble. Still, he had only two practices with his new teammates and was trying to learn their offense.
“It’s not more complicated, it’s just different,” Leftwich said. “It all says the same thing— Spanish, English Chinese, it’s just different ways to say it. That’s the process I’m going through now, just trying to get the terminology down, get everything down.
“It’s not like playing wide receiver where you just run your route. At quarterback, you have to know what everybody is doing, you have to know protections, you have to know site adjustments. That’s the process I’m going through right now.”
Leftwich was signed by the Steelers instead of Daunte Culpepper since, among other things, he realized he would not have a chance to compete for No. 1.
“We all know who THE guy is. My job is to prepare myself every day in case I’m needed, and if I’m needed I have to go out there and we can’t miss a beat and that’s what I’m going to work myself toward.”
The shortest camp in modern-day Steelers history ended with the final practice Sunday, three weeks after the players reported to Saint Vincent College in Latrobe, Pa. They will finish the preseason at the team’s regular facility in the city of Pittsburgh.
Quote To Note:
- Coach Mike Tomlin said sloppy tackling against Buffalo was a reason the Steelers did not use many, if any, of its substitution packages on defense, staying in the 3-4 much of the way.
“When you’re not tackling, you got to play basic football,” Tomlin said.
- WR Santonio Holmes finally will get a chance to return punts this week. Mike Tomlin had resisted him doing so through training camp after not using him in that role last season. Now, he’s comparing him to a Hall of Famer.
“I grew up in a generation in Virginia when Darrell Green was a situational return man of the Redskins,” Tomlin said. “When he went back there, it kind of electrified the crowd. Hopefully, we have a vision of maybe having that with Santonio.”
- Steelers chairman Dan Rooney and his four brothers have been summoned to New York City to meet with commissioner Roger Goodell Aug. 26 at NFL headquarters. The five each own 16 percent of the franchise and are trying to find a way to abide by NFL rules regarding ownership of their racetrack-casinos, as well as the Steelers.
- Tight end Jon Dekker felt the poor playing surface in Toronto contributed to his torn right ACL.
“I don’t think many guys liked playing on it,” Dekker said.
“You got to show something in the preseason. That’s why we play the damn games.”—LB James Harrison, upset with his defense’s play through two games.
Strategy And Personnel
One player came, two went and one came and went over the past week. TE Jon Dekker was put on the waived/injured list with a torn ACL. TE Lee Vickers was signed to replace him. DE Kyle Clement sprained his knee and was placed on waived/injured. DE Kevin Huntley was claimed off waivers from the Redskins and waived by the Steelers four days later after he failed his physical.
• Veteran DE Orpheus Roye was signed to a one-year deal Sunday to add depth to the defensive line. Roye (6-4, 330) was originally drafted by the Steelers in the sixth round in 1996. He spent his first four seasons with Pittsburgh before signing with the Browns in 2000. Roye was released by the Browns earlier this year.
Battle Of The Week: Justin Hartwig vs. Sean Mahan to start at C—It remains the lone, official job opening. Mahan started the first game, Hartwig the second. Hartwig said the coaches wanted to pick one this week and Hartwig was running with the first team at the start of it. Coach Mike Tomlin said they have not yet decided. “No, we’re still looking at those guys. I think it’s important we get a true evaluation of the position by allowing Justin to continue to work with the first group and get some cohesion things squared away, some communication, some silent count issues. But I like where both guys are and I think we have two viable options there.”
Other Battle Fronts:
Larry Foote vs. Lawrence Timmons at ILB—Foote’s still running No. 1 and the coaches say he’ll start, but Timmons looks as though he won’t be contained. He had another big game in Toronto with a sack and blowing up a quarterback on another occasion. … Deshea Townsend vs. Bryant McFadden to start at CB—There was no real competition and Mike Tomlin said Townsend will start.
Player Of The Week:
QB Ben Roethlisberger—Coming off his first Pro Bowl season, Roethlisberger is getting better in practice and in games. He hasn’t played much in the two preseason games but this guy is taking it to another level in his fifth NFL season. Roethlisberger completed nine of 11 passes with a 40-yard TD to Santonio Holmes against the Bills. He did throw his first interception, but the safety made a diving catch. He’s 11 of 13 for 180 yards and two touchdowns in two games, both to Holmes.
RB Rashard Mendenhall carried 11 times for 30 yards against Buffalo. He had a nice series in which he carried all five times from the 18-yard line, picked up a short-yardage first down and scored from the six. He’s having a decent camp, not great. … WR Limas Sweed dropped two passes vs. Buffalo and continued it by dropping a couple in the first practice of camp afterward. … LB Bruce Davis is not making the kind of strides hoped for and may not get the kind of playing time as a situational rusher they planned. … OT Tony Hills has made little impression but may be retained on the final roster anyway. … LB Mike Humpal can’t get on the practice field because of a stinger. … QB Dennis Dixon is making good strides and has the team made as the No. 3.
S Troy Polamalu, on the PUP with a hamstring injury, was scheduled to practice for the first time this week.
TE Jon Dekker was waived injured with a torn ACL from the game vs. Buffalo.
Rookie S Ryan Mundy had the boot removed from his high ankle sprain and could practice soon.
Minor injuries that kept players temporarily out of practice include LB Mike Humpal (stinger), LB Patrick Bailey (knee), LB Keyaron Fox (back spasms), LB Andre Frazier (shoulder), TE Cody Boyd (shoulder) and NT Scott Paxson (stinger).