It\’s not a mirage. The man playing the part of Tim Tebow in practice with the Steelers really is Dennis Dixon. Dixon, who played an option-like offense at Oregon, played his freshman season in 2004 behind Kellen Clemens. Prior to his junior year in 2006, Dixon was named the starting quarterback and led the Ducks to a 4-0 start. Dixon finished the season fourth in the conference in total offense (219.3 yards per game). His senior season, Dixon accumulated 141 rushing yards against Houston; the most ever by an Oregon quarterback. That year Dixon was believed to be a leading Heisman candidate until he suffered a knee injury. Tim Tebow ended up getting the trophy.
Dixon, who was picked up by the Steelers for his similar play to Antwaan Randle-El, understands the spread attack or spread-read attack. Head Coach Mike Tomlin made the decision this week to change Dixon into Tebow in practice in preparation for the upcoming playoff game Sunday in Denver against the Broncos.
When asked about the strategy Wednesday, Tomlin said, “We prepare for (the option) during the off-season because in the National Football League we understand where this game could have gone and could go. We\’ve been looking at it now for the last several years.” Tomlin asserted that the Steelers have always had this type of package in their arsenal. Tomlin added that the Steelers “defense has also experienced the benefit of looking at some of those things and preparing for it.”
The Steelers fully believe their number one defense will be able to shut down Tebow\’s running back slash quarterback style Sunday. The Steelers\’ traditional scheme, with eight men in the box, may appear to be a bad matchup against Denver. Dennis Dixon has the answer for that – preparing his team to alter their play in a way that matches better against Denver\’s current offense. Dixon has been running these types of plays in Steelers practices for years.
Tebow hasn\’t been as mysterious lately, either. In the Broncos\’ three-game losing skid at the end of the regular season, Tebow turned the ball over six times. He will have a tough time breaking his slump against the Steelers defense. They rank first in fewest yards, points and passing yards allowed.
“The three losses haven\’t shaken my confidence,” Tebow said after the Broncos backed their way into the playoffs at 8-8. His body language doesn\’t match the words coming out of his mouth. The Broncos own the next-to-worst passing game in the NFL. Tebow has been visibly shaken by defenses that have been successful at taking away his running lanes. He has been holding on to the ball longer and his recent escape routes have been backwards. The Steelers can capitalize on this by keeping him contained with sacks. Count on Dick LeBeau to dial up some special plays. Watch for Troy Polamalu to mirror Tebow around the edges instead of floating the field as much.
As for Dixon, he may not be starting the game in Denver, but in a way, his participation this week has already been crucially successful. Should Dixon have won that Heisman Trophy in 2007? Perhaps. Many say that although his running power isn\’t as strong as Tebow\’s, he\’s faster and he is a more accurate passer. Dixon can smile on the sideline, prepared if he\’s called into the game, with an understanding that he\’s already given his team a step up and a secret weapon for dealing with the stumbling Broncos.