Steelers Team Report
Aug 11, 4:01 am EDT
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Quarterback Charlie Batch might still be a starter in the NFL if he weren’t injured so often. He’s hurt again, this time a broken collarbone on the right side. The 33-year-old will miss four-to-six weeks.
In the meantime, the Steelers were busy lining up someone to back up Ben Roethlisberger, who has had injury issues of his own. They believe they have a team that can compete for a Super Bowl and want to make sure they don’t have to use a rookie quarterback if something happens to Big Ben.
That’s why Byron Leftwich figured in their plans. Leftwich will back up Roethlisberger until Batch recovers, and there’s a chance he could remain with them even after that.
The Steelers drafted Dennis Dixon on the fifth round this year with the idea he would serve as their No. 3 quarterback and become the heir apparent to Batch as Ben’s backup. But the injury to Batch could change that.
The organization loves Batch, a Pittsburgh native who is big in the community, and he kept their Super Bowl express on its path in 2005 when Roethlisberger was injured. They will keep him around. But they also could keep Leftwich and place Dixon on the practice squad.
“They have an opportunity to win it all,” Leftwich said. “To be part of that, if I can help, that’s my mindset. I’m just trying to get back out there.”
Leftwich, 28, was the seventh overall pick in the 2003 draft from Marshall, the year before the Steelers drafted Roethlisberger with the 11th pick from Miami in the same Mid-American Conference. The two have been friends since their days in the MAC, a conference that also produced Batch, who played at Eastern Michigan. Steelers quarterbacks coach Ken Anderson also was Leftwich’s quarterbacks coach for part of his career in Jacksonville.
“I know Ben well, him and Charlie,” Leftwich said. “I played against Ben, competed against him in college. It was fun.”
Leftwich had been the starter since his rookie season in Jacksonville and was No. 1 at this time last year. However, coach Jack Del Rio decided to go with David Garrard instead and cut Leftwich Sept. 1. He signed with Atlanta but another ankle injury, the bane to his career, derailed him and the Falcons cut him in February.
“I don’t think it was an issue with my production when on the football field,” Leftwich said. “It was just the time I missed because of injuries. Believe me, I wasn’t trying to do that.”
Leftwich has lost 25 pounds and now goes 6-5, 225.
Batch was injured on a broken play in the first preseason game. He was supposed to hand off to Mewelde Moore, but the back ran to his right when he was supposed to go left. Batch kept the ball, ran to his left and was crushed after picking up six yards.
“I feel bad about the whole situation,” Moore said.
“It was a busted play,” Batch said. “Moe went to the right, and it was a play to left, so I tried to fill in and go where the play was supposed to go and a helmet went right on my collarbone. I think the way I landed jarred it a little bit.”
Camp Calendar: Players reported to Saint Vincent College in Latrobe July 27. No scrimmages are scheduled. The last practice at camp is Aug. 17.
• Linebacker Lawrence Timmons had a productive first game. He helped keep the Eagles from scoring with two outstanding plays on the first drive. On first down at the 13, Donovan McNabb completed a pass on the right side to Correll Buckhalter that produced just three yards because Timmons closed quickly on the play and tackled him. Then, on third down from the 10, McNabb lofted a pass into the left back corner of the end zone to Jason Avant that Timmons knocked away.
“It was really what we expected,” coach Mike Tomlin said. “He showed us the things that he has been showing us in Latrobe and that he has been showing us even going back into the spring at the South Side facility. Lawrence is a run-and-hit guy. He did that tonight and made some plays for us.”
• The Steelers were thrilled with the performance of their special teams in the first preseason game. Special teams were not a strength for Mike Tomlin in 2007.
“Special teams were solid, which of course was important to us,” Tomlin said.
Quote To Note: “Just look at James Harrison. I don’t think you find too many college guys looking like that!”—Rookie RB Rashard Mendenhall, on Steelers MVP linebacker James Harrison after a goal-line drill.
Strategy And Personnel
Veteran QB Byron Leftwich, 28, flew to Pittsburgh Saturday night to become the backup to Ben Roethlisberger after Charlie Batch broke his collarbone Friday night. The Steelers also signed veteran P Mitch Berger.
• Linebacker James Farrior, 33, wants to play in Pittsburgh beyond 2008, his last contract season. No talks, though, have taken place to extend his contract.
“I love this team, I want to be here,” said Farrior, their defensive captain who has been team MVP and All-Pro during his time with them. “I want to finish my career here and I’m going to do everything possible to make that happen.”
• The agent for tackle Marvel Smith said no talks are taking place with him with the Steelers’ self-imposed deadline of Sept. 7 for any player to sign an extension.
“I guess we have four weeks to see if Marvel remains a Steeler after this year,” said Ken Zuckerman, his agent.
• Rookie running back Rashard Mendenhall felt the sting of his first criticism in Pittsburgh, by coach Mike Tomlin. Mendenhall failed on three tries to score in his first live goal-line drill. The ball was placed just inside the 2 each time. Tomlin said Mendenhall had to “run harder,” then eased his stance a few days later.
“It’s a natural reaction to the overall intensity of the drill,” Tomlin said. “It’s something all rookies have to go through.
Battle Of The Week: Justin Hartwig vs. Sean Mahan to become the starting C—Hartwig outweighs Mahan by 15 pounds and has the edge because Mahan could not handle the big nose tackles last season. Mahan continues to run with the first team after two weeks and started in the first preseason game. However, Hartwig will start Thursday against Buffalo in a predetermined rotation.
Other Battle Fronts: Lawrence Timmons vs. Larry Foote to start at ILB—Timmons already has been installed over Foote in the nickel defense and had an outstanding first preseason game. … Willie Parker vs. the Field to become the short-yardage back—Parker wants it and only Gary Russell is better at it and Russell may not be active for games. … Dallas Baker vs. Willie Reid to become the fifth WR—Neither separated himself over the past week and a younger receiver could join the competition.
Player Of The Week: QB Ben Roethlisberger—Roethlisberger looks as good as ever as he enters his fifth NFL season. He led his unit on an efficient 80-yard, eight-play touchdown drive to lead off the first preseason game against the Eagles. The only third down he faced on that drive came on the last play, when he checked off after seeing a blitz and tossed a quick, short strike to Santonio Holmes on the left and Holmes easily ran it in for a 19-yard TD. Ben was 2-for-2 for 38 yards on the drive.
Rookie Report: RB Rashard Mendenhall carried seven times for 34 yards in his preseason debut, one going for 15 yards. He also was the first man back on kickoffs, returning one of them for 28 yards. … WR Limas Sweed caught three passes for 23 yards, his most impressive a 3-yarder over the middle in which he had to leap to catch it and was knocked head over heels, landing on his hand while holding onto the football. … S Ryan Mundy was having a good first game until he left with a shin injury. … LB Bruce Davis, who may be used in pass-rush situations this year, had two tackles, one for a loss, against the Eagles. … QB Dennis Dixon played five minutes short of two full quarters after Charlie Batch was hurt in the second quarter. Dixon completed six of eight for 30 yards and guided his offense to a field goal that put the Steelers in front for good.
Injury Report: QB Charlie Batch is out four-to-six weeks with a broken collarbone from Friday night’s preseason opener.
S Troy Polamalu (hamstring) missed the first two weeks but could return soon; he opened on PUP.
P Daniel Sepulveda (ACL) had surgery Wednesday.
NT Casey Hampton was taken off PUP on Sunday and practiced for the first time.
Others who did not dress for the first preseason game were TE Cody Boyd, S Anthony Smith and DE Travis Kirschke, all with minor injuries.
Rookie S Ryan Mundy (shin) left the first preseason game