The countdown to Latrobe is now almost down to 30 days and with all but 2 draft picks signed, it is time to start doing our Steelers Training Camp Previews by position. The first installment focuses on the Steelers quarterback position. I am fine tuning several others of these and should have them spaced out enough to quench your thirst for Steelers information all the way until the start of camp.
Training Camp Preview – Defensive Line |Training Camp Preview – Safeties |Training Camp Preview – Linebackers | Training Camp Preview – Offensive Line | Training Camp Preview – Tight Ends | Training Camp Preview – Wide Receivers | Training Camp Preview – Running Backs | Training Camp Preview – Quarterbacks
Overview: The quarterback position is of the greatest concern as the Steelers head to training camp in light of the Ben Roethlisberger suspension to start the season. Currently the four quarterbacks on the roster are no strangers to Steeler Nation. How the Steelers manage through the first 4-6 weeks of the 2010 season minus Roethlisberger, will set the tone if indeed this is the year we get championship number seven.
Ben Roethlisberger: You would literally have to have been hiding under a rock to not know the status of Big Ben heading into training camp. Although never charged with a crime, Roethlisberger has been suspended 6 games for violating the NFL\’s personal conduct policy to start the season. With good behavior that suspension could be shortened to 4 games as currently Ben is doing everything the league and Commissioner Roger Goodell has asked him to do. Regardless, Roethlisberger is under a very watchful eye of everyone at this point. Ben was able to take part in the final OTA session of the offseason and also managed to get a few one-on-one sit down interviews out of the way with the local Pittsburgh media. All that is left now is to repair the relationships in the locker room and clear all the air with his fellow teammates when the team arrives at Latrobe. The rumors of the Steelers trading Big Ben are now behind him and the organization is still committed to him as the center piece of the team. If all goes well, Ben will be back under center following the week 5 bye to face the Cleveland Browns. Once he gets under center, he will likely do so in an offense that is a bit more balanced than it has been the past few seasons. The main difference is that Ben will have to acclimate himself to is the loss of receiver Santonio Holmes and possibly the addition of two more rookie wide receivers as depth in the passing game. Roethlisberger did well in bringing along Mike Wallace last season and should not need much prep work in making up lost practice time this past offseason.
Byron Leftwich: Immediately after the suspension of Roethlisberger was announced, the Steelers traded for Leftwich and proceeded to extend his contract through the 2011 season. This is the second trip through Pittsburgh for Byron who played in five games for the Steelers in 2008, throwing for 303 yards and two touchdowns. He was 7 of 10 for 129 yards and a touchdown while replacing an injured Roethlisberger in a game against Washington that year. As stated in the overview, the first 4 weeks are key for the 2010 team and the Steelers are 5-5 in games not started by Ben Roethlisberger since 2004. As it stands right now, Leftwich took the most snaps with the number one offense during the mini-camp and OTA practices. Although not anointed the starter for the 2010 season, it stands to reason it his job to lose when camp opens. He understands the offense and is well liked and respected in the locker room. Leftwich knows his role is too get the Steelers to week 5 with at the very least a .500 record. Even if he were to go 4-0 in that time span, he knows the job belongs to Ben and will not rattle the cage as he goes back to backup role. Leftwich will likely get an above average amount of work in the pre-season, to ensure he is on the same page as the rest of the offense. While not out of the question, it would take an amazing training camp for Dennis Dixon and a complete face plant by Leftwich for him not to be the week 1 starter. Anything beyond week 1 depends entirely on his play.
Dennis Dixon: Dixon was an unknown commodity headed into the 2009 season, but when pressed into emergency duty in the week 12 game versus the Ravens at Baltimore, Dixon proved he belongs in the NFL as a quarterback. Although the Steelers lost the game in overtime, he put them in position to win the game. That is all you could of expected out of a second year player in his first NFL start under center. Currently Dixon is going into the final year of his rookie contract with the Steelers and although Byron Leftwich is currently ahead of him on the depth chart, it is not out of the question he could be the opening day starter with a fantastic camp and a stumble by Leftwich. That said, Dixon’s best role might be the relief man right now. He is still young and lacks game experience. Not being named the starter right now puts zero pressure on him and he can focus on developing further during training camp. Head coach Mike Tomlin also is wanting to see him fight for the job. Most reports during the offseason on Dixon have been neither good or bad, in fact not too much has been reported about his play in shorts at all. Realistically you would hope to hear great practice reports on Dennis as soon as camp opens if you are in his camp of wanting him to start week 1. Like it or not, I see Dixon starting the season backing up Byron, but could be called upon to take over should Leftwich start out 0-2 and struggles. Dennis is playing for his future and if called upon, must be up for the task. If he is, he could in fact test the free agency market for the 2011 season if there is one.
Charlie Batch: Unless he becomes a member of the Steelers coaching staff, this will be the last year Batch wears a black and gold ball cap. Father time has caught up with Uncle Charlie, but he makes an excellent choice as a third string QB on the Steelers. Make no mistake, Batch still has what it takes to finish out a game should he be called upon, but he can’t be relied on week to week. Batch knows his role of mentor. More so for Dixon than anyone else and is a great leader in the locker room. Batch’s time on the roster will brief, because as soon as Roethlisberger is activated from the reserve/suspended list, Charlie will likely be released. That could be as early as week 5 if things go well for Big Ben.
Likely Training Camp Depth Chart:
QB1 Byron Leftwich (likely week 1 starter)
QB2 Dennis Dixon
QB3 Charlie Batch
QB1 Ben Roethlisberger (suspended 4-6 weeks)
Summation: The 2010 schedule offers up the chance early on for the Steelers to escape with a 2-2 record minus the services of Roethlisberger. If indeed Ben only misses four games, he would return for a post bye week tune up game at home versus the Browns before facing a rough 4 game stretch that includes 3 road games versus the Dolphins, Saints and Bengals. It culminates at home versus the hated Patriots in week 10. Realistically the Steelers need to be 6-3 or at worse 5-4 at that point and have the quarterbacks and offense to get that done. Several teams would be envious of the quarterback depth the Steelers have and I feel comfortable as well with it headed into training camp.