By Dale Grdnic
Photo: David Hague — Inside Pittsburgh Sports
LATROBE, Pa. — Ever since Dennis Dixon’s performance against the Detroit Lions Saturday night, Pittsburgh Steelers fans have been clamoring for the third-year quarterback to get more first-team reps and even replace Byron Leftwich as the club’s starter during Ben Roethlisberger’s suspension.
Not to say it won’t happen at some point, but Leftwich still appears to be the Steelers’ starter at least for the opening 4-6 regular-season games. And Dixon will be used in special situations where his speed and athleticism will be used.
“We’re looking for clarity in that area, but both guys are working hard and getting better every day,” Steelers coach Mike Tomlin said. “(Dixon) had a nice start, but that’s all it was. He was productive, but most of that came in the fourth quarter of the game. So, we’re not going to get carried away.”
Tomlin added that with the way he played, Dixon possibly could get some first-team reps now, splitting time with Leftwich. And he’ll likely play in spots even if Leftwich ultimately is the starter to open the season.
“Yes, but that’s why we continually work on a package that’s solely for him, not only here in training camp but back in the spring at our place,” Tomlin said.
Roethlisberger said that he was chirping in Tomlin’s ear every third play or so against the Lions, asking the coach if he could play. Tomlin disagreed.
“I thought it was every second play, but we’re not going to dispute him there,” Tomlin joked, then added that he hasn’t yet decided on Roethlisberger’s status for preseason Game 2 against the New York Giants Saturday night.
Steelers offensive coordinator Bruce Arians, however, said that Roethlisberger definitely will play against the Giants. He added that it was up to Tomlin whether or not he would start Roethlisberger, but he absolutely was going to play.
The Steelers held a lengthy red-zone session midway through practice Monday where a wide receiver was matched against a defensive back for a pass from the 5-yard line into the end zone. This wasn’t a new drill in reaction to something from the Detroit game, as Tomlin said it was pre-scheduled.
Tyler Grisham beat Keenan Lewis on a pass from Leftwich. … Joe Burnett picked off Dennis Dixon’s pass attempt to Arnaz Battle. … Troy Polamalu got beat by Mike Wallace on a Roethlisberger toss to the back pylon. … Emmanuel Sanders needed one more to beat David Pittman to the inside for a pass from Dixon….
Charlie Batch connected with Isaiah Williams on a quick slant in front of Burnett. … Leftwich forced Stefan Logan to stretch out to catch a TD pass to the outside against Da’Mon Cromartie-Smith…. Roethlisberger hit Battle for a touchdown against Pittman. … Bryant McFadden had good position on Hines Ward, but couldn’t pick off Leftwich’s bullet. ….Ike Taylor had tight coverage on Antwaan Randle El, and both collided going for Dixon’s pass. A flag could have been thrown…
Wallace beat Pittman to the outside, and Roethlisberger completed the easy TD pass. … Battle made a nice catch to beat Burnett, and Grisham made an even better snag to beat Lewis for scores from Leftwich and Dixon…. Batch found an open Williams against Cromartie-Smith….
Leftwich gunned a TD to Sanders, who beat Justin Thornton. … Dixon threw a tremendous fade to….
Williams to beat Allen. … Logan beat Ryan Clark with an outside move, but dropped the perfect pass from Roethlisberger. On an ensuing play, Logan had the corner route on Burnett, but the pass was too high for him. …Wallace made a sharp cut to score on McFadden, as Roethlisberger fired a perfect pass to the outside. … And Burnett got a second pick in the drill when Leftwich couldn’t get the ball to Battle due to the tight coverage.
Rush end Jason Worilds proved that he’s ready for game action with a quick inside move to beat Max Starks. … On the second attempt, Worilds didn’t get wide enough, and Starks shoved him down. …
Ziggy Hood and Chris Kemoeatu had a standoff, so that one went to the offensive guard. … Chris Hoke beat Justin Hartwig with a power move, but Hartwig came back strong against Scott Paxson. ….
Trai Essex did a marvelous job getting position on Aaron Smith. … Thadeus Gibson had two big moves in the drill, beating Flozell Adams with a quick outside step and Jonathan Scott within minutes.
There also were some two-man stunts. Worilds and Sunny Harris did a number on Kemoeatu and Starks. … Adams and Essex stuffed Hood and Doug Worthington, respectively. Worilds made a nice spin move on Tony Hills, but the third-year player beat the rookie with solid technique. Hills also stopped Worilds later in the drill for his best effort to date. … Doug Legursky beat Hoke, but Paxson and Maurkice Pouncey split their two chances against each other.
Running back Jonathan Dwyer did not practice due to a shoulder injury that he sustained during the game. He is characterized as being out on a day-to-day basis. … Defensive end Brett Keisel had a calf injury, and fullback Dwayne Wright has an illness. Both are day-to-day as well. … Worilds (hamstring) practiced full tilt Monday and should play Saturday night after sitting out the first game for precautionary reasons.