By Dale Grdnic
PITTSBURGH — In just a few weeks, veteran Charlie Batch went from the pit to the pole position and eventually the winner’s circle, as far as the Pittsburgh Steelers’ starting quarterback spot is concerned.
Steelers coach Mike Tomlin confirmed Wednesday, through the club’s media relations department, that Batch indeed would start for the Steelers against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers Sunday at 1 p.m. at Raymond James Stadium in Tampa, Fla. It’s his first start since Dec. 30, 2007.
“It feels good,” Batch said. “All along, I wanted to throw my hat into the ring as one of the options (at quarterback) during these first four games. I never imagined it would turn out this way, but here we go.”
This story is dripping with irony since Tomlin initially said that Batch wasn’t in the mix due to being injury-prone the past couple years. Batch currently is the Steelers’ most healthy quarterback, as two-game starter Dennis Dixon had knee surgery Wednesday and Byron Leftwich, who was expected to start the opener, is returning from a knee injury in the final preseason game.
“I’ll let you all (speculate) on that,” Batch said. “(But) if that was the reason, and I guess it was because (Tomlin) gave it, the only way you could prove it was by being out there.
“So, I had to get out there during the preseason and show it. In the Tennessee game, I took a couple shots and was able to stand up. I didn’t have any problems, so hopefully that was one way that I could prove it.”
Many believe that the Steelers were extremely conservative offensively against the Tennessee Titans last week, but Batch believed the reigns would be loosened at least a bit against the Buccaneers.
“Last week, Dennis was starting, so we had to prepare that way,” Batch said. “Hopefully, as they look at it and start preparing for the rest of the installation, we’ll get some more things in there for me to do. And I’m sure I will.”
Dixon was injured in the second quarter against the Tennessee Titans, so Batch got a significant amount of playing time. His statistics, however, were rather insignificant at 5-for-11 passing for 25 yards and two sacks. Tomlin noted Tuesday during his weekly press conference that they could have been much better if Steelers Mike Wallace, Heath Miller and Hines Ward would have held onto catchable balls thrown their way.
“I guess you could look at it that way, but they weren’t,” Batch said. “At the end of the day, the stats are what they are, (but) I look it as I need to make more plays than I did last week. At the end of the day, though, we won.
“And that’s what is most significant. But I still have to go out there this week and work with the guys to make things better in Tampa.”
Steelers offensive guard Chris Kemoeatu believed that the club’s offense would run smoothly this week.
“Charlie’s going to do a good job this week,” Kemoeatu said. “He did a good job stepping in last week, so I know he can get the job done.”
That experience against the Titans was great for Batch since he didn’t get many reps during training camp let alone the preseason games.
“That was important because it was actual game speed,” Batch said. “You can go out there and simulate it as much as possible on the practice field, and going against our defense every week kind of allows me to have some of the game speed and be able to work the pocket a little bit during practice and be able to shift that into actual game situations.
“And that’s great, because for me there won?t be many more opportunities. You’re starting to get up there in years. You just have to wait for those opportunities whenever they arrive. A couple weeks ago, I was a little disappointed because I didn?t get that opportunity (to start), but here I am again with another opportunity.”
Leftwich actually held the “pole position” to be the Steelers’ regular-season starting quarterback from start to finish during training camp, and he was headed for that role into the final preseason game with Carolina. However, he suffered a left knee sprain and has not dressed since then.
So, he was just thrilled for the chance to get back on the practice field. Leftwich’s injury did not need surgery, but he will wear a brace for protection.
“I just want to go play,” Leftwich said. “It’s hard watching these games. I don’t know how important it is for us to get out there (with the first team), but between me and Chuck there’s a lot of experience there.
“Nothing’s going to be brand new to us. I know Charlie has lots more experience than me, but it depends. They’ll do the right thing. There’s only two of us, and the starter should get enough reps. We’ll get enough reps this week.”
Leftwich said his knee feels better every day, but Wednesday’s practice was his most significant work since the injury occurred.
“I could feel good coming off or I could feel bad coming off,” Leftwich said. “You have your good days and your bad days. Four days ago, I woke up and it felt like nothing was wrong.
“Then, at night, I knew something was still wrong. So, it’s all a matter of doing enough work, but not too much work. I don’t want to aggravate anything, so we’ll see how I feel in a couple days.”
In other injury notes, left offensive tackle Max Starks (left ankle) and nose tackle Casey Hampton (hamstring) could be ready to return to the starting lineup. Both said that they felt better, but wouldn’t be certain until the end of this week.