Steelers to lean on Dennis Dixon

With Ben Roethlisberger expected to be suspended for the first four to six games of the 2010 season, the quarterback job will likely belong to Dennis Dixon. However, the re-signing of Charlie Batch does provide further insurance in case the youngster is not up to the task. And, most recently, the Steelers traded a late pick to bring Byron Leftwich back to Pittsburgh.

What does Dixon bring to the table? If Dixon had not injured his knee during his senior year at Oregon, he probably would have been drafted in the second or third round and viewed as a potential starter in this league. But because of the injury, the Steelers were able to acquire him later, in the fifth round, and more or less redshirt him as he learned. This will be his third NFL season and he should have a pretty strong feel for his teammates and the offensive system that Pittsburgh runs.

What you notice right away is Dixon’s exceptional athletic ability. He is a true threat as a runner and can make a lot of plays -- designed or not -- with the ball in his hands. He is an effective passer on the run in rollout-type situations and has a strong enough arm that he can make most throws asked of him even when his feet are not set. In limited views, Dixon also has shown that he is not haphazard in his decision-making and understands that forcing a throw is rarely the correct decision.

Another thing that stands out with Dixon is his poise. Going back to his college days, he plays the game at a nice pace, is tough to rattle and it never seemed as though the game was too big for him. Many young quarterbacks are unable to slow down the game as Dixon does.

In Batch, Pittsburgh has a declining player who was never overwhelming from a passing standpoint to begin with. But he is a veteran who understands the offensive system, the speed of the NFL and protection schemes, and he values the football. In short, Batch wouldn’t dazzle if put into the game, but he probably wouldn’t embarrass himself either.

But Leftwich is also very interesting and had success with the Steelers in 2008. Obviously he has experience as a starter, which is invaluable, but Leftwich also is very tough, well liked by his teammates and has a cannon for a right arm. He also values the football and doesn’t take too many unnecessary risks. But his negative qualities are nearly as prominent as what he does well. He is heavy footed and doesn’t move well within the confines of the pocket while bringing next to nothing to the table as a runner. Leftwich also has an extremely long release that really telegraphs where he is going to deliver the football. These problems are not going away -- but that doesn’t mean this wasn’t a sound acquisition.

When analyzing the backup quarterback situations around the league, you quickly realize that many teams would be in far worse shape than Pittsburgh if their starting quarterback were unable to play. Dixon, Batch and Leftwich are more or less game managers at this point, but that can be a successful recipe with a typically strong Steelers defense and what is expected to be an improved rushing attack. Still, none of these quarterbacks are close to Roethlisberger.

While Batch is descending, Dixon is ascending and offers much more playmaking ability. It probably will be Dixon’s job, but Leftwich just might have something to say about that.