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Steelers' Dixon earns teammates' respect

If the Steelers realized what they had in second-year quarterback Dennis Dixon before last Sunday night's game at Baltimore, maybe wide receiver Hines Ward would have felt differently about Ben Roethlisberger sitting out with a concussion.

"He won over a lot of guys in this locker room,'' Ward said after Dixon played admirably in the Steelers' 20-17 overtime loss.

Dixon got rid of the ball quickly and wasn't sacked. Later in the game, offensive coordinator Bruce Arians opened up more of the playbook for Dixon, whose performance relieved concerns about his ability to be the backup with Charlie Batch sidelined with a wrist injury.

"I remember saying in the first quarter, (Florida quarterback) Tim Tebow probably doesn't have a Heisman Trophy right now if Dennis Dixon doesn't get hurt,'' Steelers free safety Ryan Clark said. "Oregon maybe has a national championship, and I would venture to say we don't have Dennis Dixon on this team if he doesn't suffer that injury.''

Dixon, a Heisman frontrunner until he was sidelined with a knee injury in his final college season, slipped to the fifth round in the 2008 draft.

'It's all about going out there and getting it done,'' said Dixon, who returns to the bench for tomorrow's 1 p.m. contest against Oakland at Heinz Field with Roethlisberger back in the lineup. "I always envisioned myself in that situation.''

Dixon tossed his first pro touchdown pass and his first interception against the Ravens. He also ran for his first touchdown, a 24-yard gallop around right end that provided a glimpse of his speed.

The Steelers wanted to call more runs for Dixon, but the Ravens adjusted their defense with linebacker Ray Lewis assigned to shadow the quarterback.

"They understood the talent of his skill-set," Steelers coach Mike Tomlin said of Dixon. "They know he can run.''

How fast• Dixon said he ran a 4.5 in the 40-yard dash his junior year at Oregon.

"I'm long-legged," he said. "It doesn't take me as long to get downfield.''

Of his touchdown run, Dixon said: "I felt like a K-9 dog was behind me.''

Dixon impressed his teammates with his composure after learning he would replace Roethlisberger the day before the game.

"For a young guy to get his first start in a hostile environment like that, with so much responsibility, it's a testament to how well he prepared and how well he played,'' center Justin Hartwig said. "Dennis is kind of a quiet guy, but I thought he did a good job of managing the game and managing the huddle.''

Added Clark: "He's an incredible athlete, a guy we feel can be quality if something does happen to Ben.''

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