Steelers sort pieces of QB puzzle

John Harris
| Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Ben Roethlisberger is still the Steelers' starting quarterback. Upon serving his suspension, he'll resume control of the offense he has directed since 2004.

But as of right now, Roethlisberger may as well be recovering from an injury because he won't be available once the regular season starts.

His return Tuesday to voluntary practices was a welcome sight, but the bottom line is Roethlisberger won't be on the field with his teammates for the Sept. 12 opener against the Atlanta Falcons at Heinz Field.

That responsibility will fall to either Byron Leftwich, who is taking first-team reps in Roethlisberger's absence, or Dennis Dixon, who is running the second-team offense.

Leftwich missed his first practice of the offseason because of an excused absence on the day that Roethlisberger reunited with his teammates.

In Leftwich's absence, the bulk of the reps went to Roethlisberger and Dixon. Roethlisberger received first-team snaps, Dixon ran the second-team offense and Charlie Batch worked with the third team.

"He has to get his reps. He has to be polished. We expect him to be on his 'A' game when he's ready to go," right tackle Willie Colon said in regards to Roethlisberger practicing with the first team.

Interesting, because you would think Dixon would have received at least some of the first-team reps because the idea is to get him ready for the regular season.

That wasn't the case yesterday. But today's another day.

Either way, the Steelers are facing a good problem to have: four quality quarterbacks, but not enough reps to go around.

What happens when Leftwich returns• Does Leftwich still receive most of the first-team reps• Does Roethlisberger• Does Dixon get fewer reps•

Does the coaching staff flip a coin to help make a decision?

"It is a tricky situation to try and let Ben get the reps, Byron get the reps," wide receiver Antwaan Randle El said. "Ben's got to miss so many games. I don't know how they would do it, but it is a tough situation."

Left tackle Max Starks believes a set rotation at quarterback will help the entire offense.

"There's four quarterbacks and three offenses (at practice). There has to be some type of rotation," Starks said.

Mike Tomlin and Co. have the difficult task of settling on a new No. 1 quarterback for at least the first four games of the season — and possibly as many as six games -- while also trying to keep all of the quarterbacks happy without bruising any egos.

Dixon took the high road when asked about the dispersal of reps by the coaching staff.

"I believe so," Dixon said when asked if there will be enough work for all four quarterbacks when Leftwich returns. "The coaches are doing great doing that. A lot of people are getting a lot of nice, solid reps. Regardless of what it is, we're having fun with it.

"I'm assuming everyone's going to get their equal share. It's not a 1-2-3 type of thing. It all depends on what type of plays you're getting each day."

Dixon explained that even though some quarterbacks will run more overall plays, everyone will have the opportunity to perform under similar conditions.

"Regardless of (if) it's a screen or whatever it is, if you're getting multiple reps on that certain play, someone else is going to get it (too)," Dixon said.

Tomlin left yesterday's practice early because of a prior commitment, so he wasn't available to comment about his quarterback rotation. Offensive coordinator Bruce Arians also did not speak with the media.

Tomlin, though, is already on record about entering training camp in late July knowing who his top two quarterbacks will be.

"I just think, in general, it's good to go in with a pecking order in your mind," Tomlin said. "I think it's good information for the men in terms of where they are. I think it's good information for a football team. I just think it's the appropriate way to approach it. I can't think of any pure, three-headed quarterback battles that worked out favorably in the National Football League."

The Steelers don't appear eager to buck that trend.

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