By BOB LABRIOLA
LATROBE – A couple of veteran NFL quarterbacks who previously had said they were interested in signing with a team where they would have a chance to compete for a starting job were here today going through a workout in the hopes of becoming Ben Roethlisberger's backup.
Daunte Culpepper and Byron Leftwich went through a Sunday morning workout for a Steelers team looking for a veteran quarterback after Charlie Batch broke his right collarbone in the preseason opener on Aug. 8 against the Philadelphia Eagles.
Following the workout, the Steelers went to work with the agents for both players, and it was shortly after the team's only practice of the day at Saint Vincent College that Coach Mike Tomlin announced Leftwich had signed.
"We made an agreement with Byron Leftwich to sign and be a quarterback with the Pittsburgh Steelers," said Tomlin. "We have some familiarity there, because Ken Anderson, our quarterbacks coach, worked with him down in Jacksonville."
A former No. 1 pick of the Jaguars in 2003, Leftwich has completed 58.6 percent of his passes over 49 career NFL games for 9,321 yards, with 52 touchdowns, 38 interceptions and a career passer rating of 79.7.
During his three seasons as the Jaguars primary starting quarterback, Leftwich was a part of a team that improved from 5-11 in 2003 to 9-7 and then to 12-4 in 2005.
"He's a young guy, had a great workout here this afternoon, is very lean, looks to be in great shape," said Tomlin. "He's a smart guy, a been-there, done-that guy. He's been a franchise quarterback for a playoff-caliber team. We're fortunate to be able to add a guy like him to the mix, and we look forward to putting him in the group as quickly as we can. Hopefully we can have him up to snuff so he can participate as soon as Thursday night in Toronto (vs. the Buffalo Bills)."
Leftwich, 28, lost out in a head-to-head battle with David Garrard last September to be the Jaguars starter, and then he signed with Atlanta, which was in need of quarterback help after Michael Vick went to prison on dog-fighting and related charges.
Leftwich played in only a few games and was released by the Falcons after the 2007 season, and he was out of football until signing with the Steelers today. When asked why he thought Leftwich was out of football, Tomlin said, "Your guess is as good as mine, based on what I saw today."
After becoming the Jaguars starter three games into his rookie season, Leftwich began to have injury problems. He missed three games in 2004 with a knee injury, five games in 2005 with an ankle injury and then 10 games in 2006 with an injury to the same ankle.
As for Batch, Tomlin had said immediately after the game against the Eagles that Batch would miss four-to-six weeks and he would not be placed on the injured reserve list. But with surgery scheduled for Monday at noon, Tomlin said the team will know more about Batch's prognosis once the procedure is done.
"We're just going to let the play talk," said Tomlin about whether Leftwich will have a chance to take the backup job away from Batch. "You know how we do it. We're going to evaluate what we see based on performance. At this point, (Leftwich) is a member of the Pittsburgh Steelers. We have a level of expectation, he has a level of expectation. Hopefully they meet and he goes out and plays well and then those are good problems to have, problems we'll address at the appropriate time."
The Steelers also added competition at punter with the signing of veteran Mitch Berger.
Berger, 36, is a 12-year veteran from Colorado, who has 730 career punts for five different teams. He has a career net average of 43.1 yards with 233 inside the 20 and 72 touchbacks. The 6-4, 228 Berger has a career net average of 35.9 yards.
"Mitch Berger was brought in to compete with Paul Ernster," said Tomlin. "It's important that we have two veteran guys who have kicked in the National Football League. They're going to battle it out, kick for kick, over the next few weeks, and whoever our punter is will have earned it. I think that's important.
To make room on the roster for Leftwich and Berger, the Steelers waived WR Garran Walker and LB Anthony Trucks.
The other roster move made on Sunday was the activation of four-time Pro Bowl nose tackle Casey Hampton from the physically unable to perform list. Hampton had spent two weeks on PUP after failing the team's conditioning test on July 27.
"It was a Sunday the day we reported to camp and put him on PUP," said Tomlin. "We met last Sunday and evaluated the progress, met again today and evaluated the progress. We felt it was up to snuff, very impressed. He's down a significant amount of weight and he's ready to go. By no means is it a finished product. You'll see he'll continue to get extra work after practice as we continue to push to where we want to be. The only emphasis is to make sure he's the most dominant nose tackle in football. I like where we are. We're on the planet and moving in that direction."
INJURY REPORT: DE Kyle Clement (knee) will have an MRI on Monday; ILB Mike Humpal (stinger) originally was injured against the Eagles, and when he tried to return to practice he re-injured it; C Justin Hartwig (knee) had some discomfort and is expected to return on Monday: FS Ryan Mundy (high ankle) was in a protective boot and may miss the next two preseason games; OT Jeremy Parquet (foot) is day-to-day.