LATROBE, Pa. – It naturally has been at the forefront because of the looming Ben Roethlisberger suspension, but there is some difference of opinion among the national media as to the quality of the quarterbacks on the team's depth chart.
For the record, the guys behind Roethlisberger are Byron Leftwich, Dennis Dixon and Charlie Batch. And with the return of Antwaan Randle El, the Steelers also now have a legitimate option in an emergency situation.
Of course, the Steelers like their quarterbacks.
"The thing I like about our quarterback situation is that we have four guys – including Ben Roethlisberger – who have starting experience," said Director of Football Operations Kevin Colbert. "Dennis Dixon has only started one game, but he still has started a game in the National Football League. I'm not sure any other team can make that claim. That's the most comforting thing about our quarterback situation. Obviously, we're not going to have our starter for a period of time still to be determined, but we know we have three other guys who have started and been successful in this league."
One recent ranking of backup quarterbacks throughout the NFL had the Indianapolis Colts as having the worst situation and the Baltimore Ravens – with Marc Bulger and Troy Smith behind starter Joe Flacco – as the best. Other teams ranked ahead of the Steelers were Tennessee – with Kerry Collins behind Vince Young; Miami – with Chad Pennington behind Chad Henne; and Washington – with Rex Grossman behind Donovan McNabb.
Again, the Steelers would disagree.
"This is the first time I've seen a group this deep," said Batch, going into his 13th NFL season, who was on a Steelers team with Roethlisberger, Tommy Maddox and Brian St. Pierre. "Our fourth guy was Brian St. Pierre, but he didn't have any game experience. Dennis has played and played well, so it's never been like this."
According to offensive coordinator Bruce Arians, the current quartet is doing very well to this point in training camp.
"Ben is quicker, faster, stronger, and he's throwing it as well or better than he's ever thrown it," said Arians. "He's in the best shape I've ever seen. (Byron) has been solid, going to the right spots. Knowledge-wise he's as sharp as anybody we've got. Dennis has had a great camp, knock on wood, because interceptions plagued him all spring."
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The team went through two practices on Tuesday, with the morning being devoted solely to special teams. The afternoon session brought a smile to Coach Mike Tomlin's face.
"This was a legitimate training camp practice," said Tomlin following the afternoon practice. "I loved the ebb and flow, the success and failure on both sides of the ball. We have our feet on the ground and we're growing as a football team. We need to match and exceed that tomorrow. I liked the effort and enthusiasm."
One of the highlights of the afternoon was a spirited session of 9-on-7, which is a drill in which the offense tries to run the football and the defense tries to stop it. There are no receivers or defensive backs on the field, and the sound of pads popping echoed off the hills surrounding the fields
"I really liked the overall ebb and flow, the intensity of that drill," said Tomlin. "When you start carrying your pads in training camp, it takes a couple of days to see legitimate football. I think we're moving in that direction, and that drill was an indication of that on both sides of the ball."
Because 9-on-7 puts the focus on running the ball, Tomlin was asked whether the session was a sign that the Steelers are putting a re-emphasis on that aspect of their game.
"I'm not (putting more emphasis on the running game), and I know that's been a hot topic," said Tomlin. "What we're interested in is being more effective at running the ball. Our emphasis hasn't changed whatsoever. We just haven't had as much success as we'd like, particularly in situations – short yardage and goal line. I like the work we did in that area today."
INJURY UPDATE: Said Tomlin, "Nick Eason is dehydrated. He'll be day-to-day and hopefully we can get him back out here soon. Jonathan Dwyer (hamstring) is status quo, as is Chris Scott (foot) and Jason Worilds (hamstring) and Andre Frazier (knee). All the other injuries that I have mentioned, the guys are working their way back. It's a part of training camp, and it's important that we get those guys back out here."