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Leftwich not guaranteed to start upon his return

| Wednesday, Sept. 8, 2010

The starting job is Dennis Dixon's for the taking — at least for the first four games of the season.

Steelers coach Mike Tomlin said Tuesday it is not a foregone conclusion that Byron Leftwich will start when he recovers from the knee sprain that he sustained last Thursday.

The Steelers had planned to start Leftwich while Ben Roethlisberger serves a four-game suspension.

"(Injuries) are unfortunate, but they also provide opportunities for others," Tomlin said at his weekly news conference. "What others do with the opportunities often times determine what happens going forward."

Tomlin announced Monday that Dixon will start Sunday in the regular-season opener against the visiting Falcons.

He said yesterday that if the Steelers' don't use all of their playbook against the Falcons it is a reflection of the calendar, not Dixon's relative inexperience.

"We're going to do the things to highlight his skills and have a normal size package of plans that we normally have at this time of year," Tomlin said. "If it's limited, it's because it's the first (game) out, not because Dennis is our quarterback."

Charlie Batch will back up Dixon, and Tomlin said there are no plans to play both quarterbacks.

Wide receiver Antwaan Randle El will take some snaps in practice this week at quarterback in case the Steelers need him Sunday because of an emergency.

Tomlin's take

Steelers coach Mike Tomlin on:

Whether he has any concerns about starting a rookie center with a young quarterback:

"No, not at all. That's the reason Maurkice (Pouncey) is in the lineup, because he doesn't play like a rookie. Quite frankly, I hadn't played a bunch of rookies; I think my record in that regard speaks for itself. The fact that he's in the lineup would lead you to believe that he doesn't perform like a rookie in regards to those things."

Running back Rashard Mendenhall:

"He's good in about all circumstances you put him in. He's good with the ball in his hands; he's good with the blitz pickup out of the backfield. We like how his game is shaping up in that it's well-rounded. He's becoming a veteran player. We're going to call on him. I think that's just the natural maturation process of any player regardless of circumstances or the quarterback situation."

Deciding which 45 players, particularly among the rookies, will be active Sunday against the Falcons:

"It's always more difficult this time of year than later in the year because many of those decisions are made for you due to injury as you get into the season. I look at that decision-making process with great optimism about what these guys are capable of providing for us and the opportunity. I think they're the reason why we are fired up, and that's why we kept most of them."

Third-year Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan:

"Quite frankly, he does just about everything well. He plays smart, he's tough, he has a strong arm, he is mobile. He makes good decisions, spreads the ball around to a variety of people."

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