Ward says Dixon should 'be Dennis'
Forget about pulling the ball down and running. Forget about reading defenses. Forget about possible protection breakdowns. Forget about living up to the formidable shadow cast by Ben Roethlisberger.
If Hines Ward could offer Dennis Dixon one piece of advice heading into Sunday's season-opener against Atlanta, he knows what he would tell the quarterback making just his second career start.
"Let Dennis be Dennis," Ward said. "That's all we ask for. We are not asking Dennis to be Ben or Byron (Leftwich) or Charlie (Batch). We want him to do what he does."
If that means scrambling for a first down, then that's fine, even though offensive coordinator Bruce Arians has said he would rather see Dixon use his arm than his legs.
Actually, Arians may be the only one who prefers Dixon stay in the pocket. While at the University of Oregon, Dixon rushed for 1,208 yards, including 583 his injury-shortened senior year.
In his only start last season, Dixon rushed for 27 yards and a touchdown against Baltimore. In this preseason, he accumulated 91 yards on the ground.
"He is a dual threat," receiver Mike Wallace said. "He can throw it, but you know at any time he can break a 40- or 50-yard run. His best asset will be his speed."
Ward added: "I want to see him run around making plays. If he gets outside the pocket, then it's OK to run the ball. Whatever it takes to get a positive play, that's what we are preaching around here. He brings another dimension."
Arians has been critical of Dixon's penchant for running. Arians would like to see more crispness out of Dixon reading routes, but he doesn't frown upon his quarterback for trying to make plays.
Neither does Ward.
"If protection breaks down, and he's unsure about coverage, then take off ... run," Ward said. "I like Dennis with the ball in his hands and running. Good things happen when he does that."
That's the approach Dixon is taking into Sunday's game.
"Whatever it takes for me to make first downs, I'll do it," Dixon said. "I'll run the ball or throw it. I think I'll have a little more freedom to do some things this time, but I still have to manage the game."
Atlanta isn't looking forward to facing off against Dixon. Falcons cornerback Dunta Robinson told the Atlanta Journal Constitution that he would much rather have Charlie Batch under center.
"You hate playing against quarterbacks that can get out of the pocket," Robinson said. "That's one of the things that defenses hate the most."
Last year, Dixon had one day to prepare for the Ravens and was given a very limited playbook.
This time, Dixon has prepared since Leftwich's knee injury last Thursday night. That has afforded the Steelers to open up the playbook a little more.
"We ran the same play maybe six or seven times (against Baltimore)," Ward said. "I have never been around where we ran the same play six or seven times throughout the game. We were very limited in what we could call. Not this year."