President Obama made the mistake of picking up a political hot potato this week when he commented on the Ground Zero mosque controversy. On a Pittsburgh level, that’s minor compared to the dangerous waters Hines Ward tried to navigate Monday afternoon.
That’s when the Steelers veteran wide receiver endorsed the idea of giving more first team action to back up quarterback Dennis Dixon.
Consider this can of worms wide open now.
Actually the worms started to sneak out from the rain soaked Heinz Field turf Saturday night. Most Steeler fans and some media members were clamoring for an open quarterback competition following Dixon’s performance against the Lions during that game.
He threw for 128 yards and a touchdown to go along with a 6-of-7 night and a perfect passer rating of 158.3. He ran for another 31 yards and almost scored another touchdown en route to Pittsburgh’s 23-7 victory overt Detroit in the preseason opener.
Furthermore, Byron Leftwich (the presumed starter at quarterback while Ben Roethlisberger is suspended) was a pedestrian 6-of-10 and he looked every bit of the pocket statue we knew him to be behind a leaky Steeler offensive line.
Keep in mind, Dixon worked against mainly the second team Detroit defense. And Dixon has rarely had a shot with first team Steeler teammates on either side of the ball during training camp.
So if you take those kinds of performances and stir them together in a quarterback cauldron like Pittsburgh, Pa. you are sure to get a recipe for a full blown quarterback controversy. Add Hines Ward’s remarks from Monday, and now you’ve got a stew that is particularly spicy.
“If Dennis is out there, you’d like to get him some more playing time,” said Ward. “Consider the game he had in Baltimore (last year when Roethlisberger was ruled out due to injury late in the week). He practiced a little bit. But there were some things we couldn’t run because he didn’t know all the plays. So I would like to get some more reps with Dennis.”
That’s been contrary to coach Mike Tomlin’s approach so far in camp. Tomlin has preferred to use starting offensive players such as Ward on the field with Leftwich and Roethlisberger a vast majority of the time. But Ward says he sees potential benefits to getting more reps for Dixon under center with the first team.
“He just brings an added dimension to the game that Byron doesn’t. Byron’s just one of those guys…he’s a pure pocket guy. The only knock on Dennis is he doesn’t have the experience.”
When I pressed Ward and asked him if Dixon has the experience to start game one of this season if needed, Ward responded…
“Time will tell.”
Well, time is short in a four game pre-season. And frankly, it’s a four game regular season for both Leftwich and Dixon too. Because in all likelihood, Roethlisberger will be back on the field by game five unless NFL commissioner Roger Goodell decides to leave Big Ben’s suspension at six games. So Tomlin may want to have a quick hook on Leftwich if the offense gets off the rails early without #7 on the field.
Let’s be clear. A lot of that may not be Leftwich’s fault. He’s not a mobile guy. Leftwich went so far as to describe himself as “the slowest black QB in the league” last Thursday.
No one present disagreed.
Meanwhile on Saturday Dixon reminded all of us of the mobility he showed in that Baltimore game last year and during his college career at Oregon. He also reminded Ward of another nimble #10 who played QB here in Pittsburgh.