Dixon's performance muddles Steelers' QB battle
Depending on one's vantage point, Steelers coach Mike Tomlin added clarity to the quarterback situation.
Or, he further muddled it when he indicated that the Steelers will play two quarterbacks while starter Ben Roethlisberger serves a four-game suspension at the start of the regular season.
Byron Leftwich appears to have a tight grip on the starting job, but Tomlin said after practice Monday that he is open to getting Dennis Dixon into games if he begins the season as the Steelers' No. 2 signal-caller.
"That's why we've continually worked on a package (of plays) solely for him not only here in training camp but back in the spring at our place," Tomlin said.
Two days after Dixon posted a perfect passer rating of 158.3 in a 23-7 win over the Lions, wide receiver Hines Ward lobbied for Dixon to get more snaps with the first team.
Roethlisberger and Leftwich have gotten almost all of those since training camp started, but Tomlin said Dixon could get some work with the starters this week, the Steelers' final one at St. Vincent College.
Tomlin and his assistant coaches did caution reporters not to put too much stock in Dixon's performance in the first Steelers' first preseason game.
Dixon completed 6 of 7 passes for 128 yards and a touchdown. But on two long completions — a 58-yard touchdown to Antonio Brown and a 41-yarder to Arnaz Battle — most of the yards were amassed on runs after the catch.
"It was a nice start, guys, and that's what it was," Tomlin said of Dixon's showing. "He was productive. Half of that production came in the fourth quarter, so we're not going to get carried away."
Dixon also rushed for 31 yards on six carries, but when asked if he was happy with that aspect of the third-year veteran's game, offensive coordinator Bruce Arians said, "No, because we had wide open receivers."
Dixon, who played in a spread offense at the University of Oregon, has made significant improvement as a pocket passer. It is, however, his running ability that has the coaches devising ways to get him into games, especially since he is such a contrast to Leftwich.
"You look at him and all you think of is Kordell Stewart," Ward said of Dixon. "It's still a learning curve for him. When he's supposed to be looking right, he's looking left, stuff like that. But with that comes practice. The more reps he gets with the guys, he's going to continue to get better. He just adds another dimension to our offense."
"He's got something that the rest of the quarterbacks in the room don't have because he can take off running and score on plays that most people wouldn't get out of the pocket on," Roethlisberger said. "He needs to utilize those talents that he has, and he's developed so much just in one year."
If Dixon seems to be getting mixed messages, he said he is still focused on showing the coaches that he can be the No. 1 quarterback while Roethlisberger is out.
"I've got to use my God-given talent as far as my feet," Dixon said, "but as a quarterback you want to throw, and that's my motto."
Arians: Big Ben to play in 2nd preseason game
It looks like there won't be any suspense regarding quarterback Ben Roethlisberger's status for the Steelers' second preseason game.
'Ben's going to play this week,' offensive coordinator Bruce Arians said Monday.
The Steelers visit the New York Giants at 7 p.m. Saturday.
Coach Mike Tomlin didn't commit to playing Roethlisberger, who's suspended for at least the first four games of the regular season, against the Giants.
'I'm hoping I'll get in,' Roethlisberger said. 'I'm not sure when, but I'll take any (playing) time, whatever coach gives me.'
Despite his best lobbying efforts, Roethlisberger didn't play in the Steelers' 23-7 win over the Detroit Lions last Saturday.
Tomlin has had to juggle getting two quarterbacks ready to play while Roethlisberger is suspended and also getting the two-time Super Bowl winner enough work during the preseason.
The situation is such a unique one that quarterbacks coach Randy Fichtner shrugged when asked how many snaps Roethlisberger needs in the Steelers' final three preseason games.
'We've talked about it,' Fichtner said. 'I don't know what the number is. This is probably uncharted waters.'