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Old 09-10-2010, 12:15 AM   #1
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Default NFL 2010 season preview: The Roethlisberger suspension

NFL 2010 season preview: The Roethlisberger suspension

A series of unfortunate events has put this Steelers team in a quarterback situation unlike any has ever faced
Friday, September 10, 2010
By Ed Bouchette, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

The Steelers will go where no football team has gone before in the first month of the season, when their starting quarterback will sit out a suspension ordered by NFL commissioner Roger Goodell. There was no precedent, no diagram for approaching such a situation, coach Mike Tomlin noted. The Steelers blazed their own path through this wilderness and there were more obstacles to overcome than they even thought.

Whether Tomlin and his coaching staff put together the right design cannot be determined, but what develops over the first four games of the season and then what happens when Ben Roethlisberger returns Oct. 17 should tell whether it was successful.

"There's no blueprint for these situations or circumstances," Tomlin said in June. "And even if there were, you wouldn't necessarily follow it. You try to do what is appropriate for this specific instance and situation and the men involved and what is best for this football team. So even if there was a similar or like situation in another city at another time, it doesn't necessarily provide a blueprint because every situation and circumstance is different when you're dealing with people."

Tomlin and his staff had the difficult job of trying to prepare two quarterbacks for the season, and they confounded matters by trying to prepare three. Then things really turned wild when the quarterback they picked to start the season came down with a knee injury in the final game of the preseason.

Roethlisberger took many snaps in practices and in preseason games with the first team even though he could not play until after the fourth game. Byron Leftwich took most of the other snaps with the first team in practices and in games until the third game of the preseason, when Tomlin decided Dennis Dixon needed more playing time with the first team.

Everything crumbled when Leftwich limped off the field Sept. 2 in the second quarter of the final preseason game against Carolina with a sprained MCL in his left knee. He was to be their starter and they were preparing him for that role.

Now, it's Dixon with Charlie Batch the only other quarterback until Leftwich returns, perhaps by the third or fourth game. This comes after the Steelers made only one thing perfectly clear all year, that Batch would be the odd-man out in this quarterback shuffle. He got little time in practice or games behind center, yet he's now No. 2 to open the season.

"We're trying to do whatever it takes to win ballgames and help this team get back [into the playoffs] until we get Ben back," Hines Ward said.

Dixon has something no other quarterback on the team has -- the running threat. Ward called him another Kordell Stewart in that vein.

"With Dennis you have more getting out of the pocket, rollouts and nakeds and that because he adds that dimension to the game," Ward said. "If Byron is the guy, you might see Dennis come in throughout the game and get some plays in."

Even the threat of that should cause defenses fits and make them prepare during the week for it to happen.

The receivers say they have worked enough with Leftwich and Dixon to get a feel and build some kind of rapport with each. This is Dixon's third season with the Steelers, but he has played little. He started against Baltimore last season when Roethlisberger did not play because of a concussion, and he made one brief appearance as a rookie, throwing one pass.

"With Dennis, you have to keep moving because he's hardly ever going to go down," Mike Wallace said.

Roethlisberger even spent time after practices taking snaps from center Maurkice Pouncey this summer as it appeared the rookie would win that job. He got another chance to work with Pouncey in the third and fourth preseason games. It might seem odd that the Steelers worked him so much in practice and in games when they knew he could not play until Oct. 17. But he will, after all, be their starting quarterback for three-fourths of the season, and they believed they needed to keep him involved mentally and physically right up until the time he had to leave.

And then what? Roethlisberger was considering options on the best way to work out and keep sharp during his suspension, not only staying in shape but in throwing shape. He hired a quarterbacks coach and was hoping to get some out-of-work receivers to catch passes from him. He also was trying to work with a local high school team.

"I didn't realize that when you're suspended you can't even be part of the team," Antwaan Randle El said. "That stinks. You have time on your hand. That's tough. That's tougher than anything. But he'll get his work. I'm sure he'll take his playbook and work his craft with somebody."

Randle El will serve as an emergency quarterback if they need one during the first month of the season.

He had taken no snaps in that role all summer until Leftwich's injury prodded the coaches to use him at quarterback in practices leading up to Sunday's opener.

In Roethlisberger's absence, it's possible the Steelers will turn conservative in their play-calling. Coordinator Bruce Arians called many more running plays this preseason. The defense also is aware of the added pressure to perform well early in the season.

"Obviously, what happens the first 4-6 weeks of the season are going to be big," safety Ryan Clark said. "After last year, after feeling like we are the reason we didn't make the playoffs last year ... I want to put it right. What better opportunity? I think it's setting up great that we have to carry the team."

For more on the Steelers, read the blog, Ed Bouchette on the Steelers at www.post-gazette.com/plus. Ed Bouchette: ebouchette@post-gazette.com.

Read more: http://www.post-gazette.com/pg/10253...#ixzz0z6J1BIZj
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