By Dale Grdnic
PITTSBURGH — The situation isn’t exactly the same as last season when Pittsburgh Steelers starting quarterback Ben Roethlisberger was slated to be suspended the initial four regular-season games, so the backup would be the starter during that stretch.
This season, the backup likely won’t play unless Roethlisberger gets injured. Not that it couldn’t happen, but the Steelers rarely blow a team out, so the backup and No. 3 quarterback generally get the same amount of game action. That is to say neither plays at all.
Still, Steelers coach Mike Tomlin and his staff must determine who will back up Roethlisberger — either veteran Charlie Batch or fourth-year pro Dennis Dixon — now that Byron Leftwich is out of the picture. Leftwich broke his upper left arm (humerus) Saturday night and had surgery today to repair the damage. Steelers coach Mike Tomlin said it would be determined later in the week whether or not Leftwich would be put on injured reserve.
Batch took the majority of the first-team reps today because Roethlisberger was rested, but Tomlin said not to read too much into that.
“We’re still determining (the backup role), and that’s part of what we’re doing here today,” Tomlin said. “Obviously,
we’re giving Charlie and Dennis a lot of work and didn’t give Ben much work today.
“And that probably will be how it shakes out during the game. In terms of the pecking order with those two, we’ll determine that closer to game time and be able to make a final determination on that after the game.”
Batch spoke about Leftwich and the opportunity ahead of him.
“It really was a painful injury, because you could see his arm just dangling there,” Batch said. “If you look at the replays, it really looked bad. I talked to him a bunch, and he really doesn’t remember what happened. And with the pain medication he’s taking, he probably had to stay in the hospital.
“He would have to be there just to get what he needed in pain meds. There’s no way you could take just pills to ease that discomfort. You need to get shots, so I think he still must be in the hospital. And he’ll probably be there a couple days, because I’m sure that he needs those pain meds to be injected.”
Dixon apparently edged Batch last year, because he started the opening two regular-season games after backup Leftwich was injured during the preseason. But Dixon didn’t believe that gave him an advantage this year.
“I wouldn’t say that at all,” Dixon said. “You’ve still got to go out there and practice the way that you’re supposed to practice, so my main goal is make my teammates feel confidence in me and vice-versa. And when you take practice seriously, the games come easier for you, and that’s the way I want it to be.
“(But) I have no idea (how much I’ll play with the first team). All I have to do is worry about practice right now, and once the time comes to play then I should be ready. I really can’t control the amount of reps that I get or when I’m going to play, so all I can do is be ready when my number’s called this week and at Carolina (in the preseason finale) Thursday night.”
Batch was a little more positive about his situation, noting that he played pretty well after Dixon was injured in the second regular-season game last season and also subbed for Roethisberger in 2005.
“At the end of the day, you have to go out and help your team win, and nobody cares how many practice reps you got. … This is just another opportunity for me, so I’ve got to go out here and play and play well. I know that the guys on the sideline watching are the guys who are evaluating me.
“So, I want to put on a performance that shows them if I have to step into that huddle in the regular season that I can get the job done,” Batch said. “(And) you have to take the reps as they come. I’ve had some practice time, but that obviously hasn’t translated into the (preseason) games.”
Batch didn’t play in the opening two preseason contests and got limited work in Game 3 last Saturday night, but he’s probably the better of the two when it comes to coming off the bench in an emergency situation.
Dixon believed that he has taken advantage of his situation so far.
“I’d say it’s gone fairly good, but my leadership skills have some a long way,” Dixon said. “To make sure that everybody’s on the right page. And as a quarterback, you have to take charge of that. There’s always pressure because we’re competing for a job. (And) everyone’s dream is to be a starter.
“But we all know that’s not going to happen here. … So, the backup job is the next best thing, and it’s what I’m looking at right now. I’m working hard to win that job, (and) I’ve been in this system long enough to have confidence in what I can do. I would say that I’m a soft-spoken guy, but my leadership skills have carried over to this year from what I learned last year.”
Roethlisberger likely will start and play just a series or two at most against the Carolina Panthers Thursday night at Bank of America Stadium in Charlotte, N.C.