Dennis Dixon's injured left knee is "meniscus-related," according to Coach Mike Tomlin, who revealed the quarterback who started the team's first two games of this regular season will have an arthroscopic procedure done on Wednesday morning. Tomlin also said that he doesn't "anticipate" Byron Leftwich's knee to be an issue during the week of preparation, but he acknowledged Charlie Batch "is in the pole position" to be the Steelers starter for Sunday's game against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
Tomlin typically begins his weekly news conferences with either a final look at the previous game or an overview of the upcoming opponent, but he broke precedent today and got right to the team's injury situation "since that seems appropriate."
Dixon's prognosis will be determined by what doctors find while performing the arthroscopic procedure, but he won't be in the mix this week for sure.
"It's really going to be determined by what we see after they go in and perform the surgery," said Tomlin about Dixon. "With injuries of that sort, you can acknowledge and identify damage. You usually don't know the extent of the damage until you go in, so we're tentatively scheduled to go there tomorrow morning around nine o'clock, and we'll have other information as we proceed from there."
So, who's it going to be at quarterback this week for the Steelers? At various times over the course of the previous several months, the competition appeared to be between Byron Leftwich and Dennis Dixon, and then between Dennis Dixon and Charlie Batch. This round will be between Batch and Leftwich, because Tomlin said the team won't look to add another quarterback to the roster at this time.
"He's been able to comfortably get through some workouts," said Tomlin when asked about Leftwich's health. "Workouts of course are different than practices and games, particularly the unanticipated movement that comes with playing football. But we feel comfortable with where he is.
"We're going to go through the week and proceed through the week to see how this thing sorts out. (Batch and Leftwich) are the two candidates. You've got to say that Charlie is in pole position because he's got a clean bill of health at this point. We don't anticipate Byron's health being an issue, but you at least at this point of the week have to acknowledge that could be a factor in terms of how the reps get sorted out and who ultimately plays."
Leftwich seemed to have the starting job for the opener against Atlanta won, but then he sprained the MCL in his knee during the preseason finale against Carolina. Leftwich returned to practice on Wednesday, Sept. 15, and by the end of the week he was a full participant and on the Friday before the game in Tennessee he was listed as probable.
But needing an additional defensive lineman because of an injury to Casey Hampton, the Steelers released Leftwich the day before the game against the Titans and moved Steve McLendon up from the practice squad. Leftwich was re-signed on Monday and will join the two-man competition when it begins in earnest tomorrow.
If Tomlin is leaning toward picking one candidate over the other, it wasn't immediately clear from his news conference. But later on, while answering questions about the performance of the offense against the Titans, Tomlin did point out that there were instances when Batch made the right read and executed properly only to have the receiver not make the play at the other end.
"I thought Charlie made some plays in the second half. We had an opportunity to make some plays for him that we didn't make," said Tomlin. "They were competitive catches, no question. There really wasn't one guy, it was when you looked at all of our guys, I thought, very reliable people. Heath Miller had the opportunity to deliver a play or two for Charlie. Mike Wallace had an opportunity to deliver a significant play that would have put us in scoring position in the third down situation. I thought Hines (Ward) was capable of maybe catching that touchdown on that little short fade. Those are the kinds of plays that need to be made. Competitive plays, yes. Combative plays, yes. But those are the plays you have to make for a quarterback, particularly one who hadn't played a bunch or is in the backup situation."
INJURY UPDATE: Besides the quarterbacks, Tomlin gave this assessment of the team's injury situation. "Casey Hampton (hamstring) has been in the building the last several days and has looked really good in terms of getting himself ready to go this week. The same could be said for Emmanuel Sanders (thigh); he's doing well. Max Starks (ankle) should be a full participant as should Jason Worilds (shoulder). Some of the things that were injury-related for us leading up to last week appear to no longer be an issue. But we do have new issues with Dennis Dixon and Trai Essex. Trai Essex has an ankle sprain. We'll see what he can do and kind of make our judgments from there based on what he's able to do here throughout the week. From a health standpoint, we'll take it."