Steelers' Mike Tomlin: 'Coaches around the league don't care about my problems'
Given Ben Roethlisberger's upcoming suspension, the Pittsburgh coach breaks down his options at quarterback
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Sunday, May. 16, 2010 - 4:15 p.m. ET
When the Steelers resume offseason practices Tuesday, the focus will be on the quarterback position. With Ben Roethlisberger suspended for the first six games of the season (it could be reduced to four games by NFL commissioner Roger Goodell), Byron Leftwich, Charlie Batch and Dennis Dixon are battling it out to see who will start the season at quarterback. Coach Mike Tomlin talked to Sporting News' Dennis Dillon recently about how the situation will unfold.
Q: How soon after Roethlisberger's suspension was announced did you and offensive coordinator Bruce Arians start mapping out a survival plan?
Tomlin: We wouldn't necessarily approach it from a survivalist mentality. We're comfortable with the guys we have to work with. We've got experience with all of those guys. All those guys have played winning football for us here in the past. Basically, what we're going to do is spend the remainder of the offseason working with these guys. All these guys are at different phases, if you will, in their careers. We like the group. We're going to work with those guys. We're going to make a decision at the end of the offseason about how we're going to move forward, and then we're going to do it.
Q: How will competition work during spring practices and training camp?
Tomlin: Setting up reps and giving each guy an opportunity to work with the ones (first-team offense) here in the OTA sessions. Prior to going to training camp, we're going to make some hard and fast decisions. I wouldn't necessarily call it a quarterback competition. I've never seen one of those three-headed quarterback competitions come out favorably. We're going to make decisions and move forward and trust our instincts and go.
Q: How soon would you like to determine the starter?
Tomlin: We've mapped out a plan of how we're going to approach this thing, determining a pecking order if you will of the guys by the end of the offseason. We'll go into training camp with that plan in mind, put it into action and prepare ourselves to play football.
Q: So you'll know who the starter is going into training camp?
Tomlin: There aren't enough reps to go around to have a legitimate, three-headed quarterback competition. I've never seen one of those things work out well. We're not going to delve into that. We're going to work with these guys for the remainder of the offseason, make decisions from my gut instinct and move forward.
Q: Could you make cases why each of the three quarterbacks has a chance to be the starter?
Tomlin: Charlie Batch is a guy who has great experience, has great football intelligence. He requires a minimal number of snaps to be prepared to play. I think that's a distinguishing characteristic when you talk about Charlie Batch. He doesn't require a bunch of physical reps to be ready to play above-the-line football.
Byron Leftwich is a guy who knows what it's about to be a franchise quarterback. He was that guy in Jacksonville; he was drafted very high (seventh overall in 2003) when he came out of school. He walks around the building with that kind of charismatic presence. Not arrogant in any way. He has charismatic leadership. He's very comfortable in a franchise quarterback's shoes, if you will.
Dennis Dixon is a talented young man with a tremendous upside. He's not going to do anything but get better with (more) snaps. Of course, he came from a spread offense and operated quite a bit out of the shotgun. He's grown by leaps and bounds in terms of playing underneath the center. Mechanically, the play-action game, reading the coverages — he's just grown in just about every area you can name.
Q: The Steelers certainly are in a unique situation. Have you called any other coaches around the league, asking for advice on how to handle it?
Tomlin: I have not. Chances are other coaches around the league don't care about my problems. Or they're glad that I have them.
Q: If the Steelers are unbeaten when Roethlisberger's suspension ends, would you be wary about disrupting that winning chemistry or would Roethlisberger get the job back immediately?
Tomlin: We'll cross that bridge when we come to it.
Dennis Dillon is a writer for Sporting News. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.