Ask Wex (Sept. 15)

Have any questions about the Pittsburgh Steelers? Check into the South Side message board and click on the "Ask Wex" thread. SteelCityInsider.net publisher Jim Wexell will answer the question here on the front page.

SteelerBill13: What are the long-term plans for Dennis Dixon? Do they see him as the long-term No. 2 QB?

Sorry to sound as if I'm a spokesperson for the coach with my clichéd answers, but the long-term plan is to make him the best quarterback he can be, and as soon as possible since no one knows when he'll become the short-term No. 1. As any football fan knows, stuff happens.

In the least, they can coach him up and eventually trade him for a high draft pick. And if provoked, one of the assistants might say that of course he's their long-term No. 2, but Mike Tomlin would never fit Dixon into such a limited niche right now.

Blount47: Other than numbers, was there a reason both Keenan Lewis and Crezdon Butler were inactive for the opener? Butler appears to be great in zone defense, as shown in the preseason. I was surprised to see both not dressing for the game

After breaking it down by position, here's why I believe each was inactive: Byron Leftwich was injured; Ramon Foster and Tony Hills left them with two versatile reserves on the OL; Antonio Brown lost out to Emmanuel Sanders for the kickoff return job, probably because he lacks Sanders's receiving polish; Jonathan Dwyer isn't much on special teams; Thaddeus Gibson lost out to Jason Worilds as the reserve OLB; Anthony Madison can play all three CB spots, allowing him to be used as a gunner over Keenan Lewis; and it looks like Stevenson Sylvester beat Crezdon Butler because the team needed insider kick-coverage since an active Arnaz Battle can move out to gunner in case of an injury.

That's just my assessment. Also, remember that Tomlin said before the season that he wants the rookies dueling for half the season in the hope that some of them become cogs down the stretch. I took that to mean he's going to rotate their game-day status early in the season.

Raingump: Do you feel the Steelers view Tony Hills as a potential starter at left tackle or just a quality backup? Also, do you think Sanders will overtake Antwaan Randle El this year or are the coaches comfortable with Randle El's experience edge?

There won't be a view of Hills until he plays. So far, he's an athletic left tackle type who's gotten better in preseason games in his third year. The next step – playing the position in games – will answer everyone's question, or at least tell us if he still has the potential worth developing. As for Sanders over Randle El, it's possible. As rotating active kickoff returners, Sanders and Brown will have the opportunities to show their stuff as receivers.

Labguy1: I'm not a coach but it seemed several failed runs in the first half had to do with Matt Spaeth not being able to seal off his guy or hold a block. Everyone is happy about the win (as am I), but without the long OT run Rashard Mendenhall had a pedestrian day. With that said, should I be worried about the running game after Week 1 with Willie Colon and now Max Starks down? Also, what position is in most need of an upgrade in the next first round?

We've been going around and around about Spaeth for a few years now. At 6-foot-7, he just does not – and probably will never – have the leverage to become a true blocking tight end. He's a round pass-catcher thrust into a square hole as the blocker because of the presence of Heath Miller. No need to hammer Spaeth further on this.

As for the running game, I agree that it's not an explosive facet, but Maurkice Pouncey is already a big help, Flozell Adams is still a strong run blocker, and by now you know Starks will be back soon. I think the running game can be good enough.

Areas in need of a first-round upgrade: the best value at OT, OG, DL, WR, and perhaps CB.

Randy Steele: Why the hesitancy to move Flozell Adams to the blind side? Sure, he's not the player he used to be, but that's still better than two guys who never were.

My assumption is that it's taken Adams this long to adjust to the right side, so why ask him to move back? Also, Adams at this point in his career should be playing right tackle, where it's more about strong-side running than blind-side protecting.

Sconway1980: Will the Pony backfield be utilized more? And do you think the team can use more of Dixon's strengths such as passes down the middle and rollouts and bootlegs?

The only place for the Pony backfield to expand is if Redman can lead block. Otherwise, every time he enters the game defenses will know he's not going to lead the back through the hole, and I'm sure teams will catch on very quickly.

As for Dixon, he'll have to improve his sideline throwing, otherwise defenses will easily jump the inside routes. And once he improves in the pocket, teams won't "mush" rush him and the rollouts will become available.

Mikey86: Are Dixon's low passes a mechanical problem or was that a game-day thing? Does he show better touch during practice?

I thought it was a game-day thing. It looked like he was trying to be too precise and was aiming the ball. He shows touch in practice, yes. You saw it against the second- and third-teamers this preseason. But it's all about calming down and becoming consistent. He made strides in the second half and I believe Tomlin is wise to start him again this week.

Iron City Jay: Is Antonio Brown the best KR/PR on the team? If so, why isn't he dressing? Why is Sanders dressing? Neither are likely to be involved in the passing game, particularly with Dixon at QB. Is it a message from Tomlin regarding AB's attitude, or is it just a numbers game?

Yes, he's the best return man on the team, but he's a rookie and I doubt Tomlin wanted a rookie handling punts on opening day (or for that matter in the first away game this week). On kickoffs, I believe Sanders got the hat because he's a more polished receiver. I do think they'll rotate until one distinguishes himself and forces Tomlin to put him on the field.


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