As usual, in this season of uncharted quarterback waters for the Pittsburgh Steelers, Coach Mike Tomlin spent a good bit of time during his weekly news conference answering questions about the position. Only this time, the questions were about both teams' quarterbacks.
As has been known and anticipated for weeks, Sunday's 1 p.m. date with the Cleveland Browns at Heinz Field will mark the occasion of Ben Roethlisberger's 2010 debut, and the timing of the bye week has provided an extra seven days for the hype to build.
But whether Steelers fans ultimately view Sunday as a success will be determined by the game's final score, and the opposition the Browns will be able to provide is going to be impacted by their own quarterback situation.
This season opened for the Browns with veteran Jake Delhomme as the starter, but his injured ankle elevated Seneca Wallace into the starter's role for the following week's game. Wallace started four games in a row, before sustaining an ankle injury of his own during the first half of last Sunday's game against the Atlanta Falcons, which meant Delhomme had to come on to play despite not being completely healed himself.
During what turned out to be a loss to the Falcons that dropped the Browns to 1-4, Delhomme is reported to have re-injured the ankle that had yet to heal completely. Tomlin was asked, where does that leave the Browns in terms of a starting quarterback for this week's game against the Steelers?
"I have no idea. And I'm really not overly concerned with it," said Tomlin. "Those are their issues, like our quarterback issues have been ours. They are a professional football team. I'm sure whomever they put in there is going to be capable. We're going to have to respect them whether it's Seneca Wallace, Jake Delhomme or Colt McCoy, or for that matter, Josh Cribbs. They are going to snap it to someone. We've got to be prepared."
If the Browns snap it to McCoy, it will be the first of his fledgling NFL career. In a section of the Browns' weekly news release titled, "Interesting Player Facts," McCoy is noted as a three-time Academic All-Big 12 selection, as a student who traveled to Peru to do missionary work on a spring break during his time at Texas, and as a featured speaker representing the Fellowship of Christian Athletes.
Nothing about football, because McCoy's last on-field action came in the preseason finale when he completed 13-of-13 for 131 yards against the Chicago Bears. His complete preseason body of work read: 28-of-39 for 232 yards with no touchdowns and two interceptions. That computes to a passer rating of 65.33, and he also was sacked six times. The closest he has been to the field since came during the three games this season in which he served as Wallace's backup.
"Believe me, there's a lot that can happen between now and Wednesday with Jake, with Seneca, with roster moves," Browns Coach Eric Mangini told the Cleveland media on Monday. "There's a lot of moving parts here, so it's hard for me to give you anything that definitive because there's nothing definitive to give right now."
Mangini might perceive nothing as being definitive, but there have been reports that the Browns signed quarterback Brett Ratliff off the New England practice squad, as well as a report that Mangini is preparing to start McCoy, the team's third-round draft pick last April, at Heinz Field.
"Look, I've played with a ton of rookies at different spots, and at some point, everybody has to start their first game," said Mangini. "At some point, everybody has to get their chance. To me, that's what all these guys are looking for, that moment to show what they can do. They've played football their whole lives and a situation like Colt's, he has been a very successful quarterback for a long time. I'm sure he's chomping at the bit to get his first chance to do that."
Chomping at the bit seems a suitable phrase to describe Roethlisberger, who watched his teammates forge a 3-1 record in his absence.
"He always (provides a morale boost) because he is a ridiculous competitor," said Tomlin about Roethlisberger. "When he has an opportunity to compete, you feel him in the room or in the stadium. One of the interesting attributes about him as a player and as a person, when faced with adversity and given the opportunity to compete, man he does. I think guys feed off that."
Tomlin also allowed that while some of Sunday afternoon could be spent riding the wave accompanying Roethlisberger's return, another part of it must be dedicated to dealing with Joshua Cribbs, the Browns' wildcat-running, kick-returning, pass-receiving weapon extraordinaire who has had his share of highlight reel moments vs. the Steelers.
In games vs. the Steelers, Cribbs has returned kickoffs for 98, 100 and 92 yards – all for touchdowns – and a punt for 55 yards. In two games last season, he rushed for 132 yards on 14 carries while operating out of the Cleveland version of the wildcat.
"I think we should expect to see a great deal of Cribbs in the wildcat regardless of their quarterback situation because he had such success against us a year ago, and that's usually the nature of the league and that's what makes it so awesome," said Tomlin. "When you show areas of deficiency, usually you are going to continue to see those challenges until you fix it. We didn't fix it in that football game. We will have an opportunity to fix it in this one and if we don't, we are going to see quite a bit of it."
Tomlin figures he's going to see a lot of Cribbs with the ball in his hands come Sunday afternoon, and Mangini has some expectation of what his team can expect from the Steelers, whether his starting quarterback is the rookie McCoy or a hobbled Wallace/Delhomme.
"It's only the Steelers, right?" said Mangini with a touch of sarcasm. "Coming off a bye week? They don't blitz much."