Steelers: Offense may look to gadget plays for spark
By F. Dale Lolley, Staff writer [email="firstname.lastname@example.org"]email@example.com[/email]
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LATROBE - Steelers offensive coordinator Bruce Arians balked at using fleet-footed quarterback Dennis Dixon in the Wildcat formation last year.
But necessity is often the mother of invention and with starting quarterback Ben Roethlisberger suspended for the first six weeks of the 2010 season, Arians admitted Tuesday that he may be warming to the idea of utilizing Dixon's running ability.
"We're trying to develop some stuff," said Arians. "If (Dixon) is our starter, it will be a different offense than if Byron (Leftwich) is the starter. You tailor your offense to the quarterback. Dennis brings certain things to the table. If he's your starter, you're not going to expose him running the football because they're going to break him up. That Wildcat stuff, you can forget about all of that if he's the starter. He won't last two ball games."
Arians may have been reluctant to try the Wildcat in previous seasons because he wanted the ball in Roethlisberger's hands as much as possible. But with the two-time Super Bowl-winning quarterback suspended, anything goes.
There is also the edict from team president Art Rooney II to run the ball more effectively in 2009. Using the Wildcat, more reverses and end-arounds could be ways to do that.
Leftwich, who was with the Steelers in 2008, was re-acquired from Tampa Bay soon after Roethlisberger was suspended by NFL commission Roger Goodell for violating the league's personal conduct policy. Roethlisberger was accused of sexual assault in Georgia in March, though no charges were filed.
The Steelers seem to be leaning toward Leftwich, who has 49 career starts, as Roethlisberger's replacement. He split first-team snaps throughout the first few days of training camp with Roethlisberger.
But Leftwich also wouldn't mind coming off the field at times in favor of Dixon if that is what's required.
"There's only really one goal and that's to do what we need to do to win football games," Leftwich said. "That's what we'll do."
The Wildcat formation is basically a single-wing offense that utilizes three runners in the backfield. It becomes more effective when at least one of those runners can also throw the football. That's where Dixon can be utilized.
A number of teams have utilized that set in recent seasons, most notably the Miami Dolphins. But the Steelers have only run one play out of that set in a regular season game since Arians became offensive coordinator in 2007 - in the Super Bowl XLIII against Arizona with running back Mewelde Moore serving as the quarterback.
The reacquisition of wide receiver Antwaan Randle El, a former college quarterback, also opens up some gadget possibilities.
Randle El, who was with the Steelers from 2002 through 2005, has completed 20 of 25 career passes for 281 yards and four touchdowns.
He also completed a 43-yard touchdown pass to Hines Ward against Seattle in Super Bowl XL.
Arians, who was Randle El's position coach in his previous stint with the Steelers, knows what the receiver can do.
"He doesn't have to lobby me (to throw some passes)," said Arians. "We'll have some packages that we're getting to. You have to set the reverses up first before you can throw it. We'll have some fun."
But can that kind of offense be as effective as the Steelers were in 2009, when Roethlisberger had 4,000 yards passing, Hines Ward and the departed Santonio Holmes each had 1,000 yards receiving, and running back Rashard Mendenhall rushed for 1,100 yards?
"We want to improve in the running game, but we damn sure don't want to step back in the passing game. We want to have another 4,000-yard passer and two 1,000-yard receivers and I don't care who they are," said Arians. "Put the running game back where it belongs and I think we're pretty potent offensively."
Odds and end zones
Running back Rashard Mendenhall took part in position drills only on Tuesday after sitting out with a toe injury Monday. ... Guards Maurkice Pouncey (hamstring) and Ramon Foster (head), and nose tackle Casey Hampton (hamstring) returned to practice Tuesday. ... Rookie linebacker Jason Worilds (hamstring) did not practice.