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Rule change leaves Dixon in limbo for Sunday's game

Quarterback Ben Roethlisberger stepped lightly in the pocket to guard is sprained left foot during practice Friday. He limped noticeably during practice and measured every step as he left the team's South Side practice facility.

Roethlisberger, listed as probable on the injury report, is expecting to start when the Steelers (2-2) face the Tennessee Titans (3-1) at Heinz Field on Sunday.

"It's just dealing with pain," said Roethlisberger, who injured the foot on the next-to-last series at Houston a week ago. "Every time you take a step it hurts, and that's not a fun thing."

Coach Mike Tomlin isn't likely to decide about his quarterback until about two hours before kickoff, in part, because activating Dennis Dixon is an option. Dixon has been inactive the entire season.

Under a rule change that took effect this season, teams no longer have the luxury of deactivating their third-string quarterback and then playing him if necessary. If teams want an "emergency" quarterback, they must make him one of 46 active players on game days.

Dixon probably would remain inactive if Roethlisberger suits up. If Roethlisberger is unable to go the distance, Charlie Batch would step in, and receiver Hines Ward would become the "emergency" quarterback.

"I don't know what Ben's status is for Sunday," Batch said. "The offense isn't going to change because I've had all week to prepare plays that I like.

"In the perfect world, you'll like to know if you're going to start. It feels good to have stepped into the huddle and called plays as opposed to looking at a (play) card, so I'm ready to play if I have to."

Dixon worked with the scout team yesterday.

"It's out of my control. I just want to be ready," said Dixon, who started two games last year before suffering a season-ending knee injury. "If I have an opportunity, I will welcome it.

"It's pretty much up in the air, but I have to prepare myself as if I'm going to be other there on Sunday."

The Steelers will be without six players: linebackers James Harrison (eye) and Jason Worilds (quadriceps), guard Chris Kemoeatu (knee), defensive end Aaron Smith (ankle), nose tackle Casey Hampton and running back Mewelde Moore (ankle). Cornerback Cortez Allen (ankle) and running back Rashard Mendenhall are listed as questionable.

The Titans will be without safety Chris Hope (knee). Tight end Craig Stevens (rib) is questionable. Guard Leroy Harris (knee), receiver Marc Mariani (hip) and linebacker Gerald McRath (left knee) are probable.

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