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Insider Only Countdown to 53: Tough Decisions loom for Steelers

1. Enter the season with 2 or 3 quarterbacks?
A dilemma facing the Steelers front office is what to do with Charlie Batch. Multiple team sources indicate the team is mulling the possibility of entering the season with just Byron Leftwich and Dennis Dixon.
Batch signed a two year deal in March and his $855,000 salary is not guaranteed until week 1 of the season.
As mentioned on Sunday, going with two quarterbacks gives the Steelers roster flexibility at different positions until Roethlisberger is reinstated by the league.
If Batch makes the team, he will be cut when Roethlisberger returns. So why guarantee Charlies salary when he’s going to be released after week 4?
What Batch has going for him is that he’s valued highly inside the organization and the team believes he’s a great mentor for Dennis Dixon.
If he makes the opening day roster, it would likely be a courtesy move from the team who values his leadership qualities tremendously.
However, going with two quarterbacks makes the most sense. The Steelers could sign a practice squad quarterback to take reps in practice.
2. No right tackle controversy

Head coach Mike Tomlin created quite a stir last week saying Jonathan Scott would get some work at right tackle with the first team.
Tomlin was challenging veteran Flozell Adams whose had some ups and downs during training camp.
While Scott has a close connection with offensive line coach Sean Kugler, there is no right tackle controversy. Adams has established himself as the starter and will be the starter on opening day.
3. Justin Hartwig Dilemma?
It was long thought that 1st round pick Maurkice Pouncey would open the season as the team’s starting right guard.
Pouncey though is much more comfortable at center and has been dominant at the position during the preseason. Pouncey will open the season as the Steelers starting center which leaves the Steelers front office with a difficult decision of what to do with Justin Hartwig.
Hartwig, signed a four-year, $10 million contract in September 2009. The deal included a $2.1 million signing bonus and Hartwig is due $2.08 million in 2010, $2.17 million in 2011 and $2 million in 2012.
Hartwig’s salary is not guaranteed until week 1.
If there was a salary cap, Hartwig would be a lock to be released. But, there isn’t one, so the big question is how well Hartwig will handle being a backup and whether the Steelers want to pay a backup $2 million dollars.
How comfortable the Steelers are with Doug Legursky as their backup center could also play into the decision. Legursky is having another strong camp and continues to make tremendous strides in his development.
4. Should Dennis Dixon get first team reps?
Head coach Mike Tomlin has talked all off-season how he wanted clarification on his starting quarterback before training camp began.
While Byron Leftwich has been entrenched as the starter, Dennis Dixon has made a late push to get into the mix. Dixon has a quarterback rating of 141.0 in the preseason. The dilemma for the Steelers is whether to give Dixon an opportunity to run with the first team this week.
A package for Dixon has been implemented but he has yet to see any first team reps in the preseason and minimal reps in practice.
5. Turn the reins over to the rookies?
The emergence of Antonio Brown has led some to believe that Stefan Logan is on the outs. Logan last season ranked third in kick return yards (1466) and third in kick/punt return yards combined (1746 yds).
Although Logan did not return a punt or kick for a touchdown, he upgraded the Steelers kick and punt return game by a wide margin. In the eyes of one evaluator i spoke with, Brown is the better punt returner but Logan is the better kick returner.
Are the Steelers comfortable enough to go with rookies Antonio Brown or Emmanuel Sanders as their main returners?
They likely are but head coach Mike Tomlin remains a strong supporter of Logan’s.
6. Final spots on O-Line and Linebacker
A week into camp, I would have said no way that Tony Hills makes the team but he’s helped himself in the past couple weeks.
Max Starks, Chris Kemoeatu, Maurkice Pouncey, Trai Essex, Flozell Adams will be the starting five and the top three reserves are Doug Legursky, Jonathan Scott and Ramon Foster.
Last season the Steelers carried nine offensive linemen and will likely do so again.
If Hartwig is cut, Hills likely sticks around for one more year. Urbik who is running with the third team is a major longshot to make the team.
The final linebacker spot is an intriguing battle to watch. Last year the Steelers kept 8 and currently have 7 locks to make the team; James Harrison, LaMarr Woodley and Jason Worilds at outside linebacker, James Farrior, Lawrence Timmons, Keyaron Fox and Larry Foote at inside linebacker.
Rookies Thaddeus Gibson, Stevenson Slyvester and special teams ace Patrick Bailey are in the mix for the 8th spot. There’s still a possibility the Steelers carry 9 linebackers.
The Steelers are high on both rookies. Slyvester has been the more impact rookie of the two, recording 11 tackles in two preseason games including a sack.

About The Author

William DePaoli

TIOPS Insider

William DePaoli is the President/Founder of Inside Pittsburgh Sports LLC and can be reached at wdepaoli@insidepittsburghsports.com

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