Tomlin: It's Dixon, and maybe Starks

At his weekly press conference, Mike Tomlin said the Steelers are going with Dennis Dixon at quarterback and possibly Max Starks at left tackle. Here's the transcript:

Opening Statement: A quick synopsis of our game the other day. My feelings are the same as they were following the game. I'm proud of the team and glad we were able to win. But of course we gotta get better in a lot of areas. That quality of performance is probably not going to be good enough to secure victory this week in a hostile environment versus the Tennessee Titans. That's how it is. We've got some days to improve and get better, to better understand what kind of football team we are and what we need to do to win football games and what we need to do to prepare to do it. I thought there were some positives, of course, as there always are. Not going to dwell on those things; we're going to work on the things we need to improve on because that's the nature of this journey as we go from Week 1 to Week 2. We expect all football teams, including the team we're playing, to be better. Week 2, that's usually the case. The nervousness and unknowing that goes with opening week, is less of an issue in Week 2, so we've got to be better. On an injury front, Byron Leftwich appears to be doing better with his knee sprain. We're going to give him some work in a limited capacity probably tomorrow and see where we go from there. Casey Hampton, of course, has a hamstring injury. We're going to watch him closely throughout the week. We're hopeful that he may be able to do something, but at this point, it's up in the air at this juncture. Max Starks has an inversion ankle sprain, which in layman's terms is a low ankle sprain. I know it was reported as a high ankle sprain. That report was inaccurate. It's a low ankle sprain. I saw him this morning. He appears to be doing better. He might be able to do something in the latter part of the week and may be able to make himself available in this football game. Hopefully, that's the case; if not, we're very comfortable with Jonathan Scott. He's been a big addition to our outfit and we expect him to play great ball if Max is unavailable.

Looking at the Tennessee Titans, boy, they made pretty quick work of Oakland last week. Offensively, it starts with Chris Johnson. This guy can run through the end zone every time he touches the ball. There's an element of respect that comes with preparing for a guy who's capable of those things. We, of course, are familiar with him and have played against him. He stuck his foot in the ground and cut back across our field and got some yards in chunks on us. That's a challenge. An additional challenge is Vince Young playing quarterback. We've played these guys quite a bit the past couple of years. It hasn't been against Vince Young. He adds an element to the preparation equation. This guy can break you down with his legs, whether it's by design or otherwise. They're running some speed option with him and he's getting yards in chunks that way. Of course, if you cover his eligibles up, he's capable of hurting you and hurting you bad with his legs. We've got to get ready for that element of playing the Titans. It's a little bit different than in recent years when we've prepared to play them. Nate Washington, of course, is outside for them and Kenny Britt and (Justin) Gage. They've got some pretty good wide receivers. Their tight ends is a unique and very good group in (Craig) Stevens and Bo Scaife. They do a nice job of utilizing their tight ends formationally. They split those guys out and try to create matchup issues with those guys. Bo Scaife is one of those big-bodied, rebounder kind of guys that's pretty darn good hurting you downfield from a tight end standpoint.

Defensively, I think it starts with their front four rotation, and I say rotation because it's more than just four men. It's a myriad of men that come at you. They all play with great energy and enthusiasm. They all have quick triggers and get off the ball. The game location is going to be a factor this week from that standpoint. Silents counts and so forth are going to play into their advantage. (Jason) Jones, their interior defensive linemen, and (Tony) Brown have been very disruptive in our backfield in recent years. (Jacob) Ford has been a disruptive force against us. We've got to prepare for those guys. They've added guys like (Jason) Babin and (Derrick) Morgan, who have contributed to their personality. In the secondary, they tackle extremely well. That's the first thing that jumps out at you. Whether it's (Chris) Hope and (Michael) Griffin, or at the cornerback position, Courtland Finnegan and (Jason) McCourty are extremely good tacklers, I think they minimize explosive plays with their open-grass tackling in the secondary and when you go into a place like Tennessee, it increases your chances of winning if you can get some chunks and get down the field and change field position. They do a great job of minimizing the possibility of that with their great tackling in the secondary. So, we don't have a lot to be optimistic about. But as a coach, you can back yourself into those corners on days like today, Tuesday. We'll go to work, we'll put together a good plan and I'm sure, ultimately, they'll go out and execute it to the best of their ability. Between now and then, we need to do everything we can to make sure that's enough.

What about Dennis (Dixon) going on the road? Or is that something that isn't a factor because he did it last year in Baltimore?

Really, it has nothing to do with Dennis. We've gone in there with Ben (Roethlisberger) and gotten beat up. That's the reality of it. It is a tough place to play, particularly if they get you behind the chains or behind on the scoreboard. They can get off and they're an attacking, penetrating group up front. They create negative plays. It's demoralizing. It ignites their fans. It's what playing on the road in the National Football League is about. It's an awesome challenge. We need to prepare for it so we can enjoy it. If you're ill-prepared for it, it's not fun.

Is containing Johnson more realistic than stopping him?

I thought Oakland was doing a pretty good job for a quarter and a half until he went 76. Such is the case with a guy like him. Historically speaking, guys that are capable of breaking you down in one or two plays, it makes them special people. There's a level of respect that goes with playing guys like him. I used to work for Monte Kiffin. He used to tell stories about Barry Sanders. He'd say they shut him down other than the two plays where he went 80 yards. That's the kind of guy this guy is. It's not a quarter battle, it's not a half battle. It's a 60-minute battle. Every time he puts his hands on the ball he's capable of hurting you bad.

Any consideration of moving Flozell (Adams)?

None. He's a right tackle.

How will you proceed at quarterback? Will you wait and see with Byron?

No, Dennis is going to lead us into Nashville.

Re: The radio interview where you wouldn't say if Ben will be your quarterback when he returns.

I'll answer why I answered it that way. In order for us to see our way out of this situation, we need to have a one foot in front of the other mentality. We need to be singularly focused on what's in front of us. That's the only way we're going to work ourselves out of this situation. As the leader of the outfit, I'm going to subscribe to that as well. I refuse to ponder the potential or hypothetical scenarios that wait for us at the end of this situation. I'm in the midst of it. I'm living it, like our football team is. I refuse to address any other element of it other than what we have right now, which is a Tuesday. We're preparing as a staff for the Tennessee Titans. Our guys are going to be in here tomorrow. We're going do the best of our ability to prepare those guys. They're going to do the best of their ability to execute that plan and Dennis is our guy this week.

Are any of your receivers able to work out with Ben outside of this facility?

They are not.

If Casey can't play, what are your rotation plans for the line?

It makes it a hairy one. We're going into a hostile environment. It's a 12 o'clock central kickoff. It's Nashville. I don't know what the weather forecast could be but fatigue could become a factor. They've got a very good back who's backed up by a solid back in Javon Ringer. Attrition could become a part of this game and it's something that concerns you as a coach when your nose guard is on the injury list. We'll deal with it like we always do.

Will you use Ziggy (Hood) or Nick Eason as a nose guard coming in?

All of those guys have position flexibility. Really, it depends on the amount of base defense we see. The issue might be solved for us if we end up in a bunch of sub-package football. I'm not going to get too caught up in that right now. Chris Hoke is our guy and others are capable.

Is it fair to say that you rotated the defensive line more than since you've been here?

It's an element of September football. It's something we've done every September, or try to because those guys are playing more football than they did in the preseason. We want energy. We want to be able to win the line of scrimmage and playing fresh bodies is the way to do that. That's something that coach (Jeff) Fisher and the Titans subscribe to. It's one of the things that makes them a tough outfit to prepare for.

If Casey can't go, would you contemplate bringing somebody in?

There's a potential for that, yes. I think Casey's availability and the level of conditioning and execution we see from the other guys, our ability to create (roster) space, there's a lot of things that factor into that equation. That's something that will work itself out later in the week.

Who will your third tackle be?

Tony Hills, who's had a very good preseason. He's in pole position. But we're not ready to count out Ramon Foster, who is tackle-capable as well. It's going to be fun to watch those guys compete this week. Hopefully, they both get better because of it.

Dennis didn't run a lot Sunday. Was that by design? And do you want to see him run more?

It's probably the way the game unfolded. I'm not opposed to it. What I am for is ringing up the scoreboard. If him running helps us do that, I'm all in.

Are you happy with Antwaan Randle El on punt returns?

I was. I thought he made great decisions. We had a lot of young people doing key jobs for us, whether it be Maurkice Pouncey snapping the ball every snap into Dennis Dixon's hands. I thought it was a prudent decision to put a veteran guy back there and make good decisions. I thought he did that. We made good decisions in and around the 10-yard line. We were backed up quite a bit. He secured the ball in some sticky situations. But, no question, Antonio Brown is an attractive option. It's good to have options.

Where does the strength of their defensive rotation come from?

I think it starts with the fact they have a lot of guys who are capable of playing above-the-line, winning football. When you have that and give those guys the opportunity to play, they buy into it. It's important to them. The guys that come in off the bench play like starters. It's a very successful thing for them.

Are defenses catching back up to offenses or was that just a Week 1 thing?

I'm not going to try to tell a story based on one week of football. The scoreboards might ring up this week and it might be a different story. I'm just really focused on what our team is doing and what we need to do to get out of stadiums with wins. I'm not concerned with the big picture at this point.

Terrelle Pryor has 12 plays a game in which he runs the ball. Should Bruce Arians call more running plays for Dennis Dixon?

We're going to try to do what's best for Dennis and our team. What coach (Jim) Tressel does for their team works for those guys. We're just trying to win. Of course, we're trying to keep Dennis upright. The National Football League game is a little more violent than college football. Terrelle Pryor is probably just as big or bigger than a lot of the guys trying to tackle him. It's a different story on Sunday and that's an element of it.

Re: The decision to start Dixon again?

We won. That was pretty good. I thought he got better as the game went on. There were some situations early in the game where he was delivering the ball to the appropriate target but it was falling short. I thought as the game wore on, he was not one making the routine plays, but he was creating a little bit. I thought that stepping up in the pocket and hitting Hines (Ward) on a third-and-9-plus was a signature play of the game. Of course, we're going with him because we feel he's going to continue to evolve, not just in practice, but when he steps into stadiums as well.

Tennessee was a different team in the second half with Vince Young. What difference has he made?

They're not a division opponent. When we've played them, it's been (Kerry) Collins. I'm probably not the best guy to talk about the evolution of his career. What I see is a guy that's capable of beating you with his arm and legs. He's a dangerous guy. They're able to do some unique things because of him. They put you in some hairy situations when they start running the speed option and his pitch man is (Johnson). It's pretty scary. That's this week's problem. That's the awesome challenge of playing in this league and one that I'm sure, at some point this week, we'll be excited about.

Is Byron close to dressing and if he is, would you be more comfortable with Dennis running because you have two backups?

We're going to see where he is in terms of dressing based on the work he does this week. That's to be determined.

Thoughts on how your punter played Sunday?

I thought he played really well. Daniel (Sepulveda) is a talented guy. We've got a great deal of respect for him. He's a good punter, a good athlete. You trade up in the fourth round to get a punter, he better be a talented guy and he is.

Re: Jeff Fisher's legacy

I think it speaks for itself. He needs no endorsement from me.

Byron said last week that they might as well play me because I can't get any slower. Do you think about that at all?

Byron's a competitor. He wants back in. I respect and appreciate that. But we're going to do what our medical experts tell us. That's the appropriate thing, not just for him, but for anyone dealing with an injury. His lack of mobility is not going to work in his favor in terms of bringing him back.

RE: Dixon's low throws?

It wasn't (from being) tentative. It probably had more to do with excitement or aggression. In some of those situations, they were bringing heat or potentially bringing heat and he was speeding up the delivery process, which caused some fundamental issues with his delivery. It's actually the opposite of being tentative. So that's encouraging. But I'd like the throws to be more on target.

Did you like the way he handled the huddle?

His gamesmanship was good, not only on the field in communicating in the huddle, but on the sidelines and in the locker room with his teammates and the coaches. He was a professional. It was what we expected.

Were you pleased with the run game?

I thought we left some yards out there. We'll try to leave fewer yards out there this week. It was above the line, no question. I thought it was very physical, no question. But I thought we could be better technically from an assignment standpoint. We're going to work to improve that this week.

Were you impressed with Isaac Redman and will he retain short-yardage duties?

I think the same thing could be said about Isaac Redman. It was positive. He moved the chains for us. We're still in the early stages of the season. We'll see if he can continue to do that.

RE: Jeff Reed's miss at the end of the first half?

Any opportunity to put points on the board, I'm not going to hesitate to use Jeff Reed. He's a good kicker. He's ridiculously consistent, particularly at Heinz Field. He's more experienced and more successful than any man who's ever played in that stadium. At the end of the half, I felt good about it from a distance standpoint. He was comfortably within range in pregame. He had just banged a 52-yarder in the other direction. We actually preferred the direction he was kicking in when he kicked the 55-yarder. There was really no hesitation. We felt there was going to be a scarcity of points in that game. So when we had the opportunity to put points on the board, we took it. That's not going to be a factor in Tennessee. If we have an opportunity to call on him, we're going to take it.

Any improvement on his kickoffs?

I thought he did pretty good. Ball placement was good. Even more important than that, I thought he had quality hang time.

Steel City Insider Top Stories