Unsettled Steelers preseason lurching to a close
Ben Roethlisberger may start his third consecutive preseason
game Thursday for the Steelers, though he can’t be the starter when
the season begins.
Byron Leftwich may get relegated to playing with the backups for
the second game in a row, yet he’s almost certain to be the opening
Charlie Batch clearly believes he’s the most qualified to play
while Roethlisberger is suspended, yet there is no guarantee he
will be on the team next week.
The Steelers’ unsettled preseason lurches to a conclusion
Thursday night against Carolina, with the starters not expected to
play much and coach Mike Tomlin still not saying who will start
Sept. 12 against Atlanta. The Steelers traded for Leftwich in April
to steer them through Roethlisberger’s suspension, yet Tomlin is
refusing to officially name him the starter.
Some Steelers are growing impatient with the lack of a formal
declaration, including their most tenured offensive player.
”Right now, Ben’s our quarterback, but he’s not going to be
around,” wide receiver Hines Ward said Tuesday. ”That’s about all
we know. Nobody knows who the starter is, the backup or even
(who’s) making the team. Hopefully by Monday, we’ll have a starting
Although the choice seems obvious – Dennis Dixon’s
two-interception performance Sunday against Denver suggested he’s
not ready to start – Ward said it would put the players’ minds at
ease to know.
”It’s tough; there’s no question it’s tough,” Ward said.
”It’s the first time in my 13 years here we haven’t had a
legitimate starter named, especially by the fourth (preseason)
game. We’re still going at it.”
In reality, the Steelers experienced similar confusion 10 years
ago, when coach Bill Cowher didn’t name Kent Graham as the starter
until after the fifth and final preseason game. Graham lasted for
only three games, and three losses, before Kordell Stewart took
over. The Steelers went 9-4 after that, but still missed the
The Steelers reacquired Leftwich with the obvious intent of
avoiding a bad start; he was the backup when they won the Super
Bowl two seasons ago, and he knows their playbook and personnel.
But he’s not seeing many of those players in the preseason.
Leftwich started Aug. 14 against Detroit and played into the
second quarter. A week later, Roethlisberger started against the
Giants, which meant Leftwich got minimal work with the regulars. In
Denver, Leftwich followed both Roethlisberger and Dixon, which
meant he was on the field with second-line players, rookies and
free agents. Not surprisingly, he didn’t complete any of his four
It seemed to be a curious way to get a quarterback ready to
start a season, but Leftwich didn’t complain.
”I don’t think anybody understood how the situation would be
handled (during camp),” Leftwich said. ”It’s so unique, there was
nothing we could go off, to follow somebody in the past, because it
hasn’t really happened this way before. I think we all handled it
well, and we all have been handling it well.”
If Roethlisberger starts against Carolina – he wants to take
some snaps in the no-huddle offense – Leftwich might play with the
backups again since the starters rarely play more than a few series
in the final preseason game.
It will Roethlisberger’s last work with the Steelers until his
suspension ends in October; he drew a six-game suspension in April,
but commissioner Roger Goodell is expected to trim it to four games
after the two meet Friday in New York.
The quarterback who’s been left out is Batch, a former Lions
starter and the Steelers’ primary backup since 2002. Batch took
nearly no snaps with the starters during camp, and his only
preseason work has been mopping up late in games.
Batch has looked sharper than any quarterback except for
Roethlisberger during his brief playing time, but he understands
the Steelers won’t keep four quarterbacks once Roethlisberger is
cleared to play.
Batch isn’t expected to have trouble landing a backup job
somewhere should the Steelers let him go.
”All I know is there weren’t many reps to go around, and I was
the one who was shorted,” Batch said. ”Realistically, there
weren’t many reps to go around. Yeah, it bothered you. … If you
don’t get any reps, that’s not good, the chances of making the team
are very slim.”