Gut check

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This coming weekend the Steelers begin their 2010 campaign in the city that is quickly earning the name, “The Big Queasy.” There is lots of stomach churning and Tums chewing going on “n’at” over at the headquarters of Steeler Nation.

Just when I thought all was lost in the guts and fortitude department, Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin did not name the more experienced Charlie Batch as his temporary starter but the more raw and athletic “young buck,” Dennis Dixon.

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Pittsburgh had better count their blessings because a “Batch” in the hand is worth a “Leftwich” in the bush. Remember, a tad less than a fortnight ago, Batch’s roster position was tenuous at best, and in the worst case his playing days seemed to be headed straight for the undertaker’s slab.

Even though he might not have been named the starter, answer this question for me. How many times has the career of Charlie Batch been assumed to have been dead and buried only to have the Steelers organization in their time of need exhume the body because as we all know “anybody is better than nobody at all.”

Dennis Dixon is the right choice to open the season for Pittsburgh. It is fortunate that he got in more reps with the first team in light of the injury to Byron Leftwich. A few weeks ago I wrote that Big Ben Roethlisberger was getting far too many reps with the first team during training camp with the “real” season peeping from behind the nearest tombstone, or something to that effect.

The only drawback to Batch and Leftwich is that over the past several years both men have been subject to injury. If there are any reservations about either athlete one would be that their injuries are many and would cause any GM to be a bit squeamish about dedicating a roster spot to either one. But let me make one thing perfectly clear. If either man is healthy both can toss the rock with considerable speed and accuracy, as long as they have competent pass catchers and adequate pass blocking.

Mike Tomlin did not listen to the talking heads. He did the right thing. If Dixon was not ready, at least according to the experts, why in the heck would they line him up with the first team for such a considerable amount of time during the preseason?

At least Tomlin and offensive coordinator Bruce Arians did not repeat the “fiasco” of last season. During the 2009 campaign just at the “zero hour,” Dennis Dixon was anointed the starter just prior to a crucial Baltimore Ravens game after Roethlisberger had suffered a possible “concussion” the week before. In spite of his “injury,” Big Ben continued to take all the first team reps during the week leading up to the game. Was there a saboteur lurking about?

Dixon was told that he was going to start around 24 hours before that game and without any first team reps or a credible game plan. In spite of that scenario, coupled with lousy play calling by the Arians, Dixon almost defeated the Ravens.

After that emotional and heartbreaking loss, number seven’s heart, mettle and toughness were questioned by one of the toughest players to ever play the game, teammate Hines Ward. Ward had this to say. “There was a 50-50 split in the locker room as to whether or not Ben should have played.” Ward also went on to say that “he’s [Ward] played with concussions in the past.” Shortly thereafter Ward was unceremoniously tied to the whipping post and verbally assaulted in print and on radio and television.

Dixon now has a little less than a week to prepare for the Atlanta Falcons, not just a mere 24 hours. He has more time to study the Falcons’ defense and the Steelers do not have to employ a “kindergarten” version of their offensive playbook. They cannot run the “Einstein” version but they do not have to revert to the Peewee Herman variety either.

If Dixon plays well, we may have a quarterback controversy on our hands. If he falters, the red carpet will be rolled out for Big Ben. But one thing is perfectly clear, if Dixon performs with an acceptable amount of competency, just as Roethlisberger has earned and been anointed the starter of this football team, Dixon will be the number two man in charge. Who has the third or fourth position is well, just a crapshoot.

The Steelers face another not so discernable dilemma, and that is not whether Roethlisberger starts or does not start. The dilemma is not the inexperience of Dixon or Batch being a bit “long in the tooth.” The difficulty that Pittsburgh currently faces is the indecisiveness of Tomlin. Tomlin had better seize the wheel of his “ship” and make those walk the plank that don’t march to the beat of his drummer.

(Aubrey Bruce can be reached at: abruce@newpittsburghcourier.com or by phone at 412.583.6741.)

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