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fordfixer
08-27-2010, 11:57 PM
Steelers' Dennis Dixon coming on fast in QB derby
Impresses Tomlin with preseason play
Friday, August 27, 2010
By Gerry Dulac, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
http://www.post-gazette.com/pg/10239/1083076-66.stm

Mike Wallace knows all about the arm strength of quarterback Byron Leftwich. Just the other night, he ran under a 68-yard touchdown heave from Leftwich, a rare occasion in which Wallace, the team's fastest receiver, was not underthrown.

But, when asked to rate the arm strength of the Steelers' quarterbacks, Wallace was not ready to quickly concede the title to Leftwich.

"I'm going to have to give Byron the edge, but Dennis' ball is smoking," Wallace said. "He's gunning it. I'm talking about, it's coming."

In many respects, Wallace could be describing the Steelers' quarterback derby -- the one to see who replaces Ben Roethlisberger for at least the first four games of the regular season -- as well.

Give Leftwich the edge, but don't dismiss Dennis Dixon.

He's coming.

The Steelers will play their third preseason game Sunday night in Denver, a time when the starters historically get their most playing time before the regular season begins. But, for the first time in the preseason, Dixon will get to work with the first-team offense once Roethlisberger, who might start against the Broncos, departs. Coach Mike Tomlin said Dixon has "earned" the opportunity.

"He did good last year in the preseason, but Dennis is so much better," said Wallace, a second-year receiver who caught six touchdowns and had a a team-high per-catch average of 19.6 yards in 2009. "I'm looking forward to seeing him out there with the top guys. If he can continue that, I don't know ..."

Dixon has been the team's most productive quarterback in the preseason, completing 13 of 15 passes for 210 yards and two touchdowns in two games. That gives him a perfect passer rating of 158.3 in the preseason. He also has directed four touchdown drives, the team's only quarterback to do that.

It isn't just his ball that's smoking.

"I'm embracing it," Dixon said Thursday before practice. "If need be, if my number is called, I want to be at my best ability."

Both Tomlin and offensive coordinator Bruce Arians have said they have special packages planned for Dixon for the regular season and plan to use him along with Leftwich, who is expected to be the starter once Roethlisberger begins serving his suspension.

But, based on the way he has performed in the preseason, and with Tomlin wanting to give him time with the first-team offense against the Broncos, Dixon might be playing himself into a more prominent role.

"I don't try to tell a story; I just look at how things unfold," Tomlin said. "I've enjoyed this process and how it has developed. It's coming to a crescendo, if you will.

"The third preseason game is an awesome opportunity because, quite frankly, you expect a lot of first-team reps to be available, unlike the first preseason game or the second. It gives you more options to evaluate those guys."

Dixon was asked if he thought the decision to play with the first team is an indication Tomlin hasn't settled on his four-game starter at quarterback?

"I always feel like that," Dixon said. "I'm a competitor, and it's a competitive sport. It's totally up to coaches to what they think. AlI I can do is control my reps and make the most of it. Hopefully, at the end of summer, something gives."

And about that fastball?

"I've known people who say I can bring it, too," Dixon said. "I got more spin on my ball. I have a shorter delivery [than Leftwich], but it's coming."

And, maybe, so is Dixon.

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