By Teresa Varley
A year ago Dennis Dixon was one of the rookies who were just getting their first taste of the NFL, preparing for his initial mini-camp with the Steelers.
Fast-forward to 2009 and while Dixon still is lacking that on-field experience during the regular season, he has come a long way as he prepares to take part in mini-camp this weekend.
Dixon used his rookie year to learn what it means to be a professional football player, both on and off the field. And he is hoping it shows.
"Being a rookie last year we had excuses here and there," said Dixon. "The second year they want you to improve. I think I am capable of getting that done."
With a better understanding of the playbook and what to expect from the NFL, getting it done will be easier.
"I feel a little bit comfortable," said Dixon. "I won't say I have the total grasp of it. That comes with repetitions and with practice time. I have to get it done in practice and games to make it come easier. I will be taking practice real serious."
Dixon had plenty of guidance, taking in every word that quarterbacks coach Ken Anderson had to say, as well as observing quarterbacks Ben Roethlisberger, Charlie Batch and Byron Leftwich. They taught him a lot and encouraged him to enjoy himself while striving to be successful.
"There is a lot riding on you," said Dixon. "You are the leader of the group whether you like it or not. It's how you carry yourself. I have been watching how they carry themselves. You are going to have a couple of bad plays, but it's how you react in the end. That is what I learned from them.
"They told me you are here for a reason, they know you are an athlete and you are capable of getting it done. It's all about can you get it done when your name is called. I think that is everyone's mental focus going into this."
It can be hard for a rookie, who goes from playing almost every snap in college to watching from the sidelines, to make the adjustment. Dixon experienced plenty of inactivity, sitting behind Roethlisberger and Leftwich on the depth chart. But he handled it well.
"Every rookie understands it's required. You have to sit back and learn," said Dixon. "They don't want to feed you to the wolves right away. You want to be fundamentally sound. You don't want to go out there and not know what you are going to do. For the most part I saw that coming because I have excellent quarterbacks in front leading the way. They are great. I am just seizing the moment right now."
One thing he hopes to seize is the number two quarterback spot. He knows that Roethlisberger is the go-to guy, but he wants to get to the point in training camp where the coaches would feel comfortable with him as the back-up.
"That is what drives me," said Dixon. "I try to get better day by day, whether it's scout team or whatever. I think I can be the number two guy. If my number is called I have no choice but to be ready. I always train myself to be ready. That is why I am here now, to get the reps with the receivers here so when practice comes it's easy for me. This time is very valuable. You are getting evaluated day in and day out whether you know it or not. Coming in here every day early, you are getting evaluated. I try to represent myself well at all times."