Dixon set to return from ACL injury
By F. Dale Lolley, Staff writer
dlolley@observer-reporter.com

LATROBE - When last seen in a football game, quarterback Dennis Dixon was a Heisman Trophy candidate and leading the No. 2-ranked team in college football, the University of Oregon, against Arizona.

But Dixon suffered a torn anterior cruciate ligament during that game last November, ending both his Heisman hopes and Oregon's national championship aspirations.

Tonight, Dixon will play in a football game for the first time since that injury, as the Steelers' fifth-round draft pick is expected to see extensive action when Pittsburgh hosts Philadelphia at Heinz Field in its preseason opener.

"I had no doubt in my mind that I was going to come back," said rail-thin, 6-3, 195-pound Dixon. "I knew I was going to be dedicated. This was my first severe injury.

"I think I've come back from it well. It usually takes six to eight months to come back from something like this. I was healthy, semi-healthy, in five months. I was dedicated to it. I have no worries."

Starter Ben Roethlisberger is expected to play one series, with veteran backup Charlie Batch expected to finish the first quarter and possibly play a little into the second.

After that, the Steelers will turn to Dixon and fellow rookie Mike Potts, a William & Mary product, to finish out the game.

It will be a big test for Dixon and his surgically repaired knee.

"In practice, I feel totally confident and everything," Dixon said. "The only difference is that in a game, I'm getting hit a little bit. It's a true test, but there are no worries. I'm just going to go out there and have fun."

Fun for Dixon at Oregon included both passing and running with the ball.

He had 2,719 total yards of offense at Oregon last season before his injury, including 1,208 on the ground, a school record for quarterbacks.

The Steelers know Dixon can run with the ball when pressured, but they're looking for a little more from him this preseason.

"We want the ball delivered in a timely manner," said head coach Mike Tomlin. "I'm sure there will be times when he has to improvise, as do all our quarterbacks. But we don't treat him any differently in terms of our plan or how we approach our plays or playing calling than we do anyone else."

When the Steelers selected Dixon in the draft, they did so with the idea that he would not be able to participate in mini-camp or any of their offseason workouts. They were hoping he'd be ready to play by training camp.

The team limited him in mini-camp, only allowing him to take a few offensive snaps. But Dixon worked throughout the offseason program, helping in his maturation process as a quarterback.

"It's starting to slow down a little bit," Dixon said of the speed of the game. "Once you know coverages and actual protections and stuff like that, it's downhill. I've just got to work on the little things, like footwork, and keep moving forward."

Odds and end zones

This will be the sixth consecutive year - and 24th overall - the Steelers and Eagles have played in the preseason. ... The two teams also meet in Week 3 of the regular season, Sept. 21 at Philadelphia. ... The Steelers were 4-1 in preseason games last season, Tomlin's first year as head coach.