Signals Crossed?

By Ed Bouchette
Updated: August 16, 2010

PITTSBURGH — The Steelers have had a quarterback controversy since March 5. Now they might have a more traditional one, if anything can be called traditional about the position for them this year.

Except when Ben Roethlisberger was in there, Byron Leftwich virtually ran all of the first-team practices in training camp after running most of them in the spring. The Steelers acquired him from Tampa Bay to start while Roethlisberger serves his minimum four-game suspension to open the regular season.

Coach Mike Tomlin was quoted in his own team’s newspaper, Steelers Digest, in the spring that he would have his starting quarterback in place by the start of training camp. That is further evidence that Leftwich is that man.

But Tomlin so far has refused to state that Leftwich is his starting quarterback, and Dennis Dixon refuses to believe the door is closed to him. Saturday night, Dixon made his case and, if he continues to play the way he did against the Lions, that case may not be closed.

Dixon rang up a perfect passer rating of 158.3 by completing 6 of 7 passes for 128 yards that included a short pass to rookie Antonio Brown who turned it into a 68-yard touchdown.

His production came against the Lions’ backups, but it also came playing with the Steelers’ backups.

Dixon also ran six times for 31 yards that included a touchdown until referee Jeff Triplette reluctantly overturned it.

Leftwich completed 6 of 10 passes for 43 yards and was the victim of shoddy pass protection and a poor ground game that included one fumble each by running backs Rashard Mendenhall and Mewelde Moore in each of the first two series.

“We weren’t clicking very well,” Leftwich said. “That happens in the first preseason game. Good thing we got three more, I hope they don’t cut it down to two. You need all four.”

What Tomlin will do at quarterback the next three games should be fascinating. How can he work Roethlisberger in with the first team, get Leftwich ready to start and perhaps still give Dixon an outside shot to make his case? There are not enough first-team repetitions to go around.

But who is to say he even needs to pick a starting quarterback for the first four games? This is not picking a starter and sticking with him under normal circumstances.

Coaches do not like to jump back and forth between or even among starters because it creates division in the locker room and controversy everywhere.

Yet this is only for the first four games of the season. After that, it’s Roethlisberger’s team. Why can’t Tomlin bounce between Leftwich and Dixon during that time, go with the hot hand (or legs) and make it that much more difficult for defenses to prepare.

Chuck Noll did it for an entire season in 1974 and won the franchise’s first Super Bowl. Tomlin certainly could do it for four games.