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Steelers QB Batch serves as mentor to Dixon

| Thursday, Aug. 6, 2009

As anniversaries go, it is one Steelers quarterback Charlie Batch would just as soon forget.

Almost a year ago today, the Homestead native had his season ended when a broken play resulted in a broken collarbone for Batch. The injury happened in the first exhibition game of the season and put his career with the Steelers in jeopardy.

Batch, however, has proven to be as resilient as he is reliable, and with training camp less than a week old, it is clear that the No. 2 spot at quarterback behind starter Ben Roethlisberger is his to lose.

Or, as offensive coordinator Bruce Arians said earlier this week when asked if Batch is in competition with second-year man Dennis Dixon, "It's Charlie's, and Dennis is growing."

The two got their share of work Wednesday afternoon — coach Mike Tomlin opted to rest Roethlisberger — for different reasons.

Batch is still knocking the rust off after missing the 2008 season, while Dixon needs all of the repetitions he can get after attempting just one pass his rookie season.

A major test for both looms a week from today when the Steelers host the Arizona Cardinals in the preseason opener for each team. That is true even for a seasoned veteran like Batch since it will be just more than a year since he has taken a hit in a game.

"I feel good, but my first test is going to be that first preseason game," said Batch, who is entering his 12th NFL season, "to get past that first hit to clear the mind."

The hit that cleared his schedule for all of last fall came Aug. 8 in a game against the Eagles, and it robbed the Steelers of the insurance they had in the event of an injury to Roethlisberger.

The team quickly signed Byron Leftwich, and he gave them what Batch had provided in recent years: a former NFL starter and a more-than-capable backup.

Leftwich left the Steelers for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in April so he would have a chance to compete for a starting job. The Steelers, meanwhile, re-signed Batch though they only inked him to a one-year deal given his age (34) and the fact that Dixon is a promising prospect.

"For me, it's just a matter of proving that I'm healthy," the 6-foot-2, 216-pound Batch said. "If I can do that, then everything else will solidify itself."

In addition to re-establishing himself as the Steelers' No. 2 quarterback, Batch continues to mentor Dixon — and essentially prepare the former Oregon star to one day take his job.

Dixon is still very much a work-in-progress as the first week of camp has shown. But the 6-3, 209-pounder said he has gotten much more comfortable in the Steelers' offense.

"I have a lot to learn, but what a difference a year makes," said Dixon, who appeared in just one game last season. "Things are starting to slow down for me."

Dixon, a running as well as a passing threat in college, said he is open to taking snaps as a "Wildcat" quarterback. Arians, however, said earlier this week that he has no plans to add the subpackage to the Steelers' offense in part because "Dennis would get broken in half."

That means Dixon, barring injury or a dismal preseason by Batch, will spend at least another year learning.

That, said Steelers quarterbacks coach Ken Anderson, isn't necessarily a bad thing given the quarterback in front of Dixon.

"I think he's had a great opportunity to sit and watch Ben and Charlie and for a while Byron Leftwich," Anderson said, "guys that have been through the battles before and how they operate the offense."

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