By Dale Grdnic
PITTSBURGH — Don’t look for the Pittsburgh Steelers to give quarterback Dennis Dixon a quick hook, as the third-year pro won’t have to look over his shoulder to see veteran Charlie Batch waiting in the wings.
Steelers coach Mike Tomlin said Tuesday during his weekly press conference that it clearly is Dixon’s job now. And if he plays well enough, Dixon could remain the starter throughout Ben Roethlisberger’s four-game suspension even if Byron Leftwich returns early from his left knee sprain.
Make no mistake, Roethlisberger will be the starter when he returns during the Steelers bye week Oct. 4. But it’s Dixon’s team for the short term, and he won’t be held back in any regard.
“It’s a practical protocol with regard to the quarterback who’s starting the game,” Tomlin said. “It wouldn’t be sharp coaching to implement a plan without input from the man who’s going to orchestrate that plan. So, Dennis will be involved in the process in a similar manner to the way that Ben (was).
“(We’ll try) to accentuate his positives and minimize his negatives in an attempt to get the job done. … Injuries are part of the game. They’re unfortunate, but they also provide opportunities for others. What others do with those opportunities oftentimes determines what happens going forward.”
Tomlin noted that the playbook would be wide open this time, as opposed to what Dixon was allowed to do when he started at Baltimore last season. Tuesday, Tomlin amended that statement a bit and said the entire playbook isn’t used every week anyway.
“You just want him to do what comes natural,” Tomlin said. “When he’s playing on instinct, the knowledge is like running water. When you give him too much instruction, it’s not going to be natural or fluid, and It’s not going to be comfortable. And that’s what we want it to be. (But) we haven’t pared down our playbook in any form or fashion due to his youth or inexperience.
“So, we’re going to do the things that highlight his skills, and we’re going to have a normal-sized package or plan that we always have at this point in the year. Granted, that might be smaller than it’s going to be in November or December, but that’s just the natural portion of football as we play it. It’s not because of Dennis or anything that he can or can’t do.”
Tomlin also noted that Dixon is a much different quarterback than he was a year ago, even from the start of training camp, especially in his mastery of the Steelers offense and his communication of it.
“(That’s) the fluid understanding of where to distribute the football (and) the understanding of protections and so forth,” Tomlin said. “I just think that it’s a natural maturation process that a young player goes through as he is in the process of becoming a veteran player. Playing is a big part of that, and that’s why this opportunity is very important for him.”
Tomlin was asked about why Batch was fourth in the “pecking order” during training camp.
“We gave guys an opportunity to compete, and we established that pecking order based on information that we received coming out of the offseason, OTAs and mini-camps,” Tomlin said. “No question that Charlie’s experience was part of the equation. You knew that he’s a guy who could be prepared to play above the line football with just a limited number of reps.
“But it also was part of the equation about Charlie’s durability or lack of durability. So, that was a concern and one of the reasons why he was third in the pecking order (not including Roethlisberger) because of the limited amount of football that he has played in the last couple of years, and he was injured while playing that limited amount of football.”
So, while Batch isn’t likely to play anytime soon, unless the team is in dire straits, wideout Antwaan Randle El could line up behind center at some point.
“Randle El will get some snaps in practice, and he’ll be an emergency (quarterback) candidate for us,” Tomlin said. “But that’s one of the reasons we brought him back. This guy is extremely versatile. He provides big-time flexibility in the punt-return game. We know he’s capable there.
“He worked some at holding, and he’s going to play some quarterback this week in preparation of the game. He’s a high-energy guy. He’s an energy bringer as opposed to an energy drainer. He’s a great guy to be around, and we’re going to ask him to do a lot to highlight his skills.”
Notes: Tomlin noted that it will be game-time announcements concerning first-year players dressing for each week, depending how they perform during the week. The most notable situations concerned wideouts Antonio Brown and Emmanuel Sanders and outside linebackers Jason Worilds and Thaddeus Brown.
The Steelers made one roster change today, releasing 2010 7th round pick Doug Worthington and signing DT Al Woods, who was the Saints 4th round pick in 2010.