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Insider Only Thursday Afternoon Practice Report: Steelers QB’s talk preseason opener

By Dale Grdnic
LATROBE, Pa. — Mike Tomlin was quite cryptic when discussing the quarterback rotation Thursday for the first preseason game, but don’t get the idea that the Pittsburgh Steelers head coach was trying to hide something.
Tomlin, you see, has yet to inform his quarterbacks how they will be used against the Detroit Lions Saturday night at 7:30 at Heinz Field. That might change during the Thursday night meeting or Friday walk-through, but no one but the coaches knew anything after Thursday afternoon’s practice.
“Sure, I want to get in there and get some reps and get a feel for the speed (of the game),” Ben Roethlisberger said. “It’s always different, even though it’s the preseason, it’s way different than practice. … I know it’s up to the coach and his call, and whatever he says I’ll do.
“But I just want to be out there with the guys. It’s such a special feeling, and that’s why I want to get out there. I can’t wait to get back on Heinz Field. … (The fans) have been awesome, so I think and hope that they’ll be awesome (Friday night). And I think it’s going to be great to be on Heinz Field.”
Roethlisberger added that he would have no qualms about playing with the second team or whatever group, as long as he gets some reps. Tomlin gave Roethlisberger two thumbs up for his performance thus far in camp.
“I guess that’s a good thing,” Roethlisberger said. “Every once in a while you get frustrated, because you work with young guys, but that’s part of this. And it’s good. I can tell them what I’ve seen and what I think. So, it’s a good thing, as far as that’s concerned.”
The Steelers worked out for two-plus hours on the turf field for just the second time in two weeks, as heavy rain showers drenched the area overnight and in the early afternoon, so the grass fields were soggy.
Byron Leftwich needs to prepare to start the opening four regular-season games, but will 8-12 snaps be enough if he starts against the Lions?.
“It’s not that you need a lot of reps,” Leftwich said. “You just like playing the game, the competition of preseason games, the competition of a game. It really doesn’t matter to any of us. We’d all go out because it’s so exciting to play another team, just to put yourself in game situations and see how you react.”
Leftwich noted that he’s played in many preseason games, and they’re all the same. But he did want to make a clarification apparently of an earlier question.
“I’m not the slowest quarterback in the league,” Leftwich said. “I’m just the slowest black one. I’m not as slow as people think I am. I can name a whole lot more people slower than me. I got a great friend in Miami called Chad Pennington. I know I’m faster than him. I probably look a little awkward when I run and everything, but I’m not as slow as people make me out to be.”
On not knowing how the reps will play out in first preseason games
“It’s nothing new. It’s kind of the same situation since I’ve been in this league.”
Dennis Dixon certainly is the Steelers’ fastest and shiftiest quarterback, but he also is the least experienced and needs the reps as well.
“I want to play the entire game but that’s not my decision,” Dixon said. “When my number’s called, I want to respond. I don’t need to show them anything, but at the same time I want to put my team in the best situation possible.
“I’m looking for room for improvement for the offense to be on the same page. When things break down, I want to be able to make a play, and I’m looking forward to getting these receivers started.”
Practice Notes
The Steelers used a variation on the hurry-up drill with less than a minute on the clock and no timeouts from the 30.
Roethlisberger opened the drill with a completion and then stopped the clock with a spike. On second down from the 17, he went for the end zone and connected with…..

Antwaan Randle El, who held on despite a good hit by Bryant McFadden. It was a terrific throw and catch.
Leftwich’s first pass was high and wide, as wideout Brandon London went up for it, but safety Ryan Mundy nearly had the pick. He went long on second down as well, but the fastball sailed threw Emmanuel Sanders’ outstretched arms. So, Leftwich was left with attempting to get the first down on third-and-10.
He accomplished that with an 11-yard catch by Antonio Brown at the 19, but the defense disputed the call. After a spike, Leftwich sailed a pass through the end zone, and the clock ran out. There was poor clock management and a 10-second runoff due to a penalty.
Dixon’s first pass was a quick out to fullback Sean McHugh and then hit Tyler Grisham for a first down.
Dixon ran the ball on the next play and got to the 6 for a first-and-goal. Dixon threw for the far corner on the next play to Brown, but the rookie was out of bounds by a step or two.
A quick throw to beat the pass rush sailed untouched through the end zone, as the secondary and receivers were not ready for the play because Dixon was hurried. The final play was short of the goal line, but fullback Dwayne Wright caught the pass and tumbled into the end zone.
Quick Slants
Kentucky men’s basketball coach John Calipari attended Thursday afternoon’s practice. Steelers quarterbacks coach Randy Fichtner was a Memphis football assistant while Calipari guided the Tigers hoops program. … The Steelers made a roster move when they signed first-year linebacker Brandon Renkart to a one-year deal. Renkart (6-2, 245) was originally signed as a free agent by the New York Jets in July, 2008 and also spent time with the Arizona Cardinals and Indy Colts practice squads. … The Steelers put linebacker Andre Frazier (knees) on the Reserve-Injured List to make room for Renkart on the roster.

About The Author

Dale Grdnic

TIOPS Steelers Beat Writer

Dale Grdnic is a contributor to Inside Pittsburgh Sports, covering the Pittsburgh Steelers and Pitt Football. Dale has covered the Pittsburgh Sports scene for over 15 years with various publications

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