Batch, Dixon now battling for No. 2 spot
Byron Leftwich's gruesome broken left arm suffered in the third quarter of a 34-16 win over Atlanta on Saturday potentially ended the veteran's season and gave both Batch and Dixon a reprieve from an unforgiving numbers game.
The Steelers started training camp with four quarterbacks on the roster, with either Batch or Dixon certain to be jettisoned before the season opener against Baltimore on Sept. 11.
The duo has spent the last month auditioning for the No. 3 spot behind Leftwich and Ben Roethlisberger. Now they head into the preseason finale on Thursday at Carolina looking to see who will be Roethlisberger's understudy.
The anxiety of being cut is gone, sure, but not the competition.
''You still have to go out and prove to Coach (Mike) Tomlin that you're capable of being the next guy to step in and it never ends,'' Batch said. ''It's not going to end at the end of this week ... or through the course of the season.''
Tomlin is in no hurry to choose and didn't rule out Leftwich's eventual return. The former first-round pick underwent surgery on Monday morning, less than 48 hours after his left (non-throwing) arm was pinned awkwardly to the turf while sliding for extra yardage against the Falcons.
Batch says it was difficult to watch his good friend writhing in pain as he was taken off the field. Yet Batch also knows the job goes on, leaving he and Dixon in a familiar position.
A year ago, the two spent camp jockeying for position behind Leftwich, dubbed the starter after Roethlisberger was suspended four games for violating the NFL's personal conduct policy.
Only Leftwich never made it to the regular season after injuring his knee. Dixon started the opener against Atlanta and played well before going down a week later with a knee injury of his own that eventually sent him to injured reserve.
In stepped Batch, who turned back the clock by helping keep the team afloat until Roethlisberger returned.
A year later, the two players on opposite ends of their careers are still going at it.
The 36-year-old Batch is simply hoping to hang on while the 25-year-old Dixon is anxious to prove he's ready to be a starter even if he's well aware it will have to happen in someplace other than Pittsburgh.
The former Oregon star re-signed with the Steelers after no other team expressed sincere interest in him. Knowing this was likely his last camp in Pittsburgh, Dixon has been heavily showcased during the preseason, playing extensively in all three games. The results have been mixed. Dixon is 10 of 24 for 132 yards with an interception while playing with the third and fourth stringers who will likely be long gone in a week.
''My main goal has been my leadership skills, commanding the huddle, making sure everybody is on the right page,'' Dixon said. ''Usually when I go in the game, I'm with people that don't know what they're doing half the time.''
Dixon used to consider himself among that group. Not anymore.
''I've been in the system long enough to where I have confidence as to what I'm doing,'' Dixon said. ''If I do mess up, I'm going to go 100 percent at it.''
Batch lacks Dixon's mobility and youthful exuberance, but has proven adept at walking into adverse situations after joining the Steelers as a backup in 2003. He's appeared in 27 games for his hometown team, sometimes in blowouts, sometimes in nail-biters.
''That's the dirty part of being a backup, you don't know when your number is going to be called,'' Batch said. ''It could be the first week, it could be Week 17. At the end of the day, nobody cares when your number is called ... it's just a matter of going out there and helping your team win.''
Dixon and Batch should get plenty of time to make a case for themselves against the Panthers. Roethlisberger will likely only play briefly, giving his backups a chance to get some rare work in with the first-stringers.
''This may be the last week you get your reps with the actual starters,'' Batch said. ''During the course of the regular season, Ben gets all the snaps with the ones and we get whatever's left over and it's not much. You have to make sure you hone your skills this week.''
They aren't the only ones hoping to get extended looks on Thursday.
Wide receiver Emmanuel Sanders is hoping to play after spending most of camp battling a stress fracture in his foot. He feels ready to go and is anxious to make up for lost time.
Sanders started training camp third on the depth chart behind Mike Wallace and Hines Ward. The outstanding preseason by Antonio Brown and the addition of former New York Jets wideout Jerricho Cotchery has suddenly made spots 3-5 very cloudy. Sanders is hoping to provide some clarity.
''I'm a competitor and I want to be out there,'' Sanders said. ''There's some good football going on out there in the preseason, and I've missed three (games). And I want to get out there. I want to play.''
And Batch and Dixon certainly want to give him the ball, and give themselves a chance to be No. 2 in the process.