The entire focus of the Steelers organization has shifted to the start of the 2010 regular season, and so it was only appropriate Coach Mike Tomlin's first weekly news conference should adhere to that trend.
One day after announcing that Dennis Dixon would be the team's starting quarterback in Sunday's opener against the Atlanta Falcons at 1 p.m. on Sunday at Heinz Field, Tomlin's answers to some questions revealed confidence in the decision he made and in the player he chose.
When it had been Byron Leftwich and Dennis Dixon in the top two spots on the quarterback depth chart, Tomlin indicated he was going to start one player and likely have a package of plays for the other. But with Leftwich currently removed from the equation with a sprained knee, Tomlin said the Steelers will move ahead with Dixon.
"We are going to play Dennis," said Tomlin.
Tomlin also has been getting questions about whether the entire playbook will be employed in the games Dixon starts at quarterback, probably from people who don't realize an NFL team's playbook is as thick as a telephone book – but then again there probably are some people who don't even realize that telephone numbers used to be catalogued in a book instead of online.
"In no specific week is the entire playbook open, so I don't want to mislead you in that regard, but we haven't paired down our game plan for him in any form or fashion because of youth or inexperience," said Tomlin. "We're going to do the things that highlight his skills and have a normal sized package that we would have at this point of the year. Granted, you might have a smaller packet at this time of year than you would in November and December, but that's just the nature of football as you play. If it's limited, it's because it's the first time out, and not because Dennis is our quarterback."
He also said Dixon will be afforded the same ability to voice an opinion on the game plan that Roethlisberger enjoys.
"Similar to Ben, it's a practical protocol that we have with the quarterback starting the game," said Tomlin. "It wouldn't be sharp coaching to implement a plan without input from the men going to orchestrate that plan. Dennis is going to be involved in that process in a similar manner to the way Ben is, trying to accentuate his positives and minimize our negatives so we can get the job done."
Tomlin again explained the rationale behind the pecking order he established for the quarterbacks as the team prepared to open training camp, and his explanation also hinted at part of his reasoning in deciding on Dixon over Charlie Batch.
"We established a pecking order in terms of the information we had coming out of the offseason, OTAs and minicamp," said Tomlin. "No question Charlie's experience was a part of the equation. We knew he's a guy who can be prepared to play above the line in football with a limited number of reps, but also in the equation has been Charlie's durability, or lack of durability. Those issues were concerns and one of the reasons he was third in the pecking order – because of the limited amount of football he's played in the last couple of years. He's been injured while playing that limited amount of football."
With only two healthy quarterbacks on the roster, Tomlin said he will turn to an old reliable in the event of an emergency on game day.
"Antwaan Randle El will get some (repetitions at quarterback) in practice, but he'll be an emergency candidate for us," said Tomlin. "That's one of the reasons why we brought him back. This guy is extremely versatile, he provides big time flexibility for us in the punt return game. We know he's capable there, he worked some as the holder yesterday. He will play some quarterback here over the course of the week in preparation for the game, and of course you know what he does at wide receiver. He's a high energy guy, he is an energy-bringer, as opposed to being an energy-drainer. He's a great guy to be around, and we're going to ask him to do a lot of things to highlight his skills."
It took a long time for Tomlin to decide upon a starting quarterback for the start of Ben Roethlisberger's suspension, but now that the decision has been made he's giving every indication he plans on sticking with it.