After weeks of uncertainty, head coach Mike Tomlin finally put the question surrounding the starting quarterback position to rest. On Monday, Dennis Dixon was named the starter for the team’s Week One matchup against the Atlanta Falcons. This will be the opportunity of a lifetime for the quarterback, who now has the unenviable task of stepping in for Ben Roethlisberger. For the next four weeks, Dixon’s play will be under a microscope and how the quarterback handles the pressure, will make all the difference in the level of success the Steelers have during Roethlisberger’s absence.
Throughout training camp and much of the preseason, it was believed that Byron Leftwich was the leading candidate for the starting job. Leftwich was the Steelers’ backup quarterback back in 2008. Following the 2008 season, Leftwich decided to leave the Steelers and declare for free agency. Upon hearing of Roethlisberger’s suspension back in April, the Steelers traded for Leftwich, who spent the 2009 season with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. The Steelers’ plan was in place to have Byron as the starting quarterback when the 2010 season kickoffs on September 12th, but that plan took a disastrous turn when the quarterback sprained his MCL in the team’s final preseason game. He is expected to miss two to four weeks.
Enter Dennis Dixon. The young quarterback had an impressive camp and preseason. Even before Leftwich went down with injury, Dixon was making quite a case for himself to be the starter. What Dixon brings to the table is his speed and mobility. He has the ability to throw on the run, and can extend the play once the pocket breaks down by using his feet. Dixon’s agility allows him to bring an element of surprise and unpredictability to the quarterback position. While Dixon’s speed and agility are undoubtedly his strengths, his weakness would have to lie in his decision making. At times, Dixon appears to try and extend the play for too long and instead of throwing the ball away, he will try and force a poor throw to a receiver. He must realize that the big play will not be there every time he drops back to pass.
There will be many eyes on Dennis Dixon this Sunday when he takes the first snap from the center. Fans need to realize that these first four games are going to be extremely difficult. There is no replacing a quarterback of the caliber of a Ben Roethlisberger. It would be irrational to expect Dennis Dixon to play like Ben Roethlisberger over these next four weeks, because it is just not going to happen. While it is true that much of the attention will center on Dixon, the truth is that it will have to be a complete team effort, if this team hopes to have success.