Youth Up the Middle

Dennis Dixon will have one of the most experienced benches in the NFL on which to lean, while rookie center Maurkice Pouncey can call a Steelers legend.

PITTSBURGH – Dennis Dixon may not be learning at the knee of Mark Brunell, Jon Kitna, or Kerry Collins – the most experienced backup quarterbacks in the NFL – but he'll learn enough from the veteran duo of Byron Leftwich and Charlie Batch this week. Leftwich has promised Dixon as much.

"Me and Chuck will help him," said Leftwich. "We pretty much know everything he's going to be thinking about the night before the game, the day of the game, the morning of the game, two days before the game, because we've been in those situations. So me and Chuck are going to do our best to help Dennis. I believe he'll do fine. He's been doing great in practice. He knows what he's doing."

Dixon will make his second career start Sunday at home against the Atlanta Falcons. Last season, as a late replacement for a concussed Ben Roethlisberger in Baltimore, Dixon completed 12 of 26 passes for 145 yards. He threw a 33-yard touchdown pass to Santonio Holmes and ran 24 yards for the other Steelers touchdown, but was intercepted at midfield in overtime and the Ravens won with a short field goal.

The third-year vet will open the season for the Steelers on Sunday, thanks to Ben Roethlisberger's suspension and Leftwich's injury.

"It's going to be a lot of excitement coming my way," said Dixon. "Good thing I have excellent teammates to calm me down."

Leftwich and Batch will be on the sidelines with the wisdom of 99 combined starts. Only three teams will have more experience on the bench: Tennessee with Collins (170 starts); the New York Jets with Brunell (151) and Kellen Clemens (9); and Dallas with Kitna (115).

DIRT POUNCES

Maurkice Pouncey will be the first rookie to start an opener for the Steelers since Heath Miller in 2005. He'll also be a the seventh rookie to start a game for coach Mike Tomlin in his three-plus seasons as coach of the Steelers.

Matt Spaeth and Frank Summers each started second games of their respective rookie seasons for Tomlin. David Johnson started Game 3 last year and Rashard Mendenhall started Game 4 in 2008. The other two rookie starters under Tomlin were Ramon Foster and Mike Wallace last season.

Pouncey, of course, is under a bit more pressure than the typical rookie. He's being looked upon to restore pride to a tradition of exceptional center play in Pittsburgh that was interrupted for a few seasons after the run of Ray Mansfield (1966-75), Mike Webster (1976-88), Dermontti Dawson (1989-00) and Jeff Hartings (2001-06).

Dawson, in fact, called Pouncey the day the Steelers drafted him.

"He congratulated me, told me to do my best, stuff like that," said Pouncey. "We've exchanged texts since then."

Has Dawson mentioned the tradition?

"He mentioned it," Pouncey said. "He said, ‘Make sure you study that.'"

Pouncey said he has since watched tape of Dawson.

"He was a beast; a great player," Pouncey said. "I'm just hoping to be somewhat like him."

QUOTEBOOK

* Leftwich on when he might return to the playing field:

"I'm sure I've got a few Willis Reed moments left in me and I could rush this thing, but I won't go out there unless I'm healthy enough to play."

* James Farrior on the distinct difference in intensity at Wednesday's practice:

"First week of the season, first practice (in pads) of the week, I think everybody was pretty excited to go through the routine. Yeah, I think there was a little bit more excitement."

PHOTO STORE

The Steelers announced the opening of Steelers Photo Store, which will sell images from the current season along with iconic shots of the team. The online store can be accessed through Steelers.com.


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