Steelers elevate Dixon to No. 2 quarterback

| Wednesday, Nov. 25, 2009

Dennis Dixon, who has thrown one NFL pass, is one hit away from playing quarterback for the Steelers.

Yet the Steelers couldn't have gotten much better news on their quarterback front than when Ben Roethlisberger told coach Mike Tomlin on Monday morning he felt fine — and then proved it by passing a battery of neurological exams.

Roethlisberger, who got knocked out of the Steelers' 27-24 overtime loss to the Chiefs after taking a knee to the helmet, is slated to practice today and play Sunday against the Ravens in Baltimore.

Roethlisberger sustained a mild concussion in the Chiefs' game, and Tomlin offered one caveat Tuesday to the sixth-year veteran playing in Sunday night's nationally televised game: If Roethlisberger starts to feel the effects of his third football-related concussion since 2006, he could miss the first of the two grudge matches that the Steelers and Ravens stage annually.

Tomlin said doctors have told the Steelers that Roethlisberger is "symptom free" in regard to his latest concussion.

Roethlisberger, Tomlin said, will continue to take the Immediate Post-Concussion Assessment and Cognitive Test (ImPACT) exams — they measure the effects of concussions — leading up to the Ravens game.

"If any symptoms re-occur or if he feels less than fine, we're going to act appropriately," Tomlin said yesterday at his weekly news conference.

If Roethlisberger's recovery takes an unexpected turn, Dixon will start against the Ravens. Charlie Batch, the Steelers' No. 2 quarterback, will miss two to four weeks after breaking a bone in his left wrist while filling in for Roethlisberger in Kansas City.

Batch is scheduled to have surgery today, and Tomlin said the Steelers will keep him on the 53-man roster and make do with two healthy quarterbacks. They are expected to sign former West Allegheny High and Pitt star Tyler Palko to the practice squad to give them an extra arm in practice.

"Some teams only have two quarterbacks on their roster, so that's a risk we're willing to weigh and run with this week," Tomlin said.

Tomlin said he doesn't know who would play quarterback in the event of injuries to both Roethlisberger and Dixon.

Dixon doesn't have much more experience playing quarterback in the NFL as the Steelers' prospective emergency quarterback, who will be determined this week.

He played in just one game last season — it came at the end of a 31-0 win over the Browns on Dec. 28 — and the 6-foot-3, 209-pounder completed his only pass attempt for 3 yards.

Dixon starred collegiately at Oregon and might have been a first-round draft pick had his senior season not ended prematurely because of a knee injury.

The Steelers were elated to get the dual-threat quarterback in the fifth round of the 2008 draft, and Tomlin said he is "very pleased" with how Dixon has progressed.

But, Tomlin added, if Dixon plays against the Ravens, "No question we would have to do some things to help him. If he plays in this game and plays extensively in this game, we have to do things schematically. His teammates that get in the huddle with him would have to be at their absolute best to assist him."

The plan, of course, is for Roethlisberger, who is fourth in the NFL with 2,867 passing yards, to only come out of the Ravens game in the event of a blowout.

If he has to leave the game or not play in it for another reason, Tomlin stated the obvious when he said, "It would change our strategy in a lot of ways."

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