It's Dennis Dixon's time. What he does with it figures to have a lot to do with when the next time will come.
Coach Mike Tomlin didn't get into detail about how he planned to use his quarterbacks during Sunday's 8 p.m. nationally televised preseason game (on FOX) against the Denver Broncos, but he did say that Dixon will get some of the repetitions with the first-team offense.
Dixon, a third-year pro who joined the Steelers as a fifth-round draft choice from Oregon in 2008, has posted the team's best passing statistics to this point in the preseason. He has completed 13-of-15 for 210 yards, with one touchdown and no interceptions, which is good for a passer rating of 141.0, while also rushing for 58 yards on 11 attempts.
"Dennis Dixon has done great with the opportunities we provided him to this point," said Tomlin. "We think he is deserving of some first-team snap opportunities with our people, hopefully vs. their people but we don't have control over who they play and when. We're looking forward to him taking advantage of that. I know he's probably excited about it. There's great scarcity with first-team snaps in the preseason, and we've been very thoughtful and diligent about how we hand those out. We've given them to Byron Leftwich, who has taken advantage of his. The young guy in Dennis, who we aspired to give a bunch of snaps to, has taken advantage of those snaps and is deserving of an opportunity to play with the ones."
That's how Tomlin has operated since taking over for Bill Cowher in 2007. Players are given opportunities, and if they take advantage of them, then they are given more. In Dixon's case, his opportunities came in the second halves of the games against Detroit and in New York against the Giants. What he did then plus what he has done in practice throughout the training camp process have combined to put him in this situation.
Before training camp began, Tomlin said the Steelers would go to training camp with a pecking order, but he also left open the possibility that he could be swayed by what he saw on the field.
"Dennis has been more consistent than he has in the past," said Tomlin in assessing Dixon's performance so far this summer. "And really I expected him to be. It's the natural maturation process of any player. You can say that about a bunch of young players on our football team, Tony Hills has been more consistent than he has in the past. Kraig Urbik has been more consistent than he has been in the past. Keenan Lewis has been more consistent than he has been in the past. Dennis is just like those guys, except he just happens to play quarterback. He has been more consistent than he has in the past so he's getting increased opportunities like all those other guys I mentioned."
Tomlin said the plan for the third preseason game, with regard to the quarterbacks, is to get the top three guys at least some playing time. In the past Tomlin has said there is no interest in playing Ben Roethlisberger with the backups, and if that holds true for Sunday, then Byron Leftwich would be the guy behind center for the bulk of the second half even though it's possible the starters could play into the third quarter.
"I look forward to (the starters playing into the third quarter), but game sequence and circumstances a lot of times dictate that," said Tomlin. "I was watching a little preseason football last night and those guys probably played a lot longer than they anticipated because they were below the line of performance. The same could probably happen if we don't play as well as we'd like."
But below the line does not describe Dixon to this point of the preseason, and that's why he will be given this opportunity against the Broncos.
"It's based on merit, and I was hopeful he would have earned it by this week because I knew this week was going to be the week where we would have an extended opportunity to go ones on ones in a preseason football game," said Tomlin.