Snapshot: Connor Dixon

Conner Dixon has taken the long way from South Park High School to the South Side of Pittsburgh, arriving from Michigan State via Duquesne before finally making it to the Steelers' practice facility ...

... on the other side of the Mon.

But he's far from finished navigating his career's twists and turns.

"It's a crazy story already," Dixon acknowledged. "That would add to it."

"That" is long-snapping, which is something the quarterback-turned-receiver has been dabbling with again this week during OTAs.

"I want to give them a reason to keep me," said Dixon, who is trying to crack the roster as an undrafted free agent.

"I don't care what that reason would be. I would prefer it to be wide receiver, but if there's a way to make this team then that's what I'll do."

The idea, as Dixon recounted the genesis of this long-snapping experiment, came from Steelers assistant special teams coach Amos Jones. Upon expressing his desire to explore the concept, Dixon found himself out on the practice field last Friday -- no OTA was scheduled -- with Jones, special teams coordinator Al Everest and No. 7b draft pick David Paulson, a tight end from Oregon and former high school quarterback.

"I don't think it went that well for him," Dixon offered.

It must have gone better for Dixon, who continues to experiment with the specialty.

"It's just like passing the ball through your legs," he said. "Definitely, throwing the ball (as a quarterback) helped."

Dixon thought again about long-snapping and added, "I think it's one of those things, you can either do it or you can't."

Dixon was successful enough passing the ball the conventional way to lead South Park to a 16-0 record and to the PIAA Class AA championship in 2005, earning Associated Press all-state honors in the process.

In 2006, he redshirted for an MSU team that was quarterbacked by Drew Stanton, formerly of the Detroit Lions and now with the Indianapolis Colts.

In 2007, Dixon served as the backup QB to Brian Hoyer, who now serves as the backup to Tom Brady in New England. Also in the QB meetings that season at MSU were Nick Foles (who eventually transferred to Arizona and was a third-round pick of the Philadelphia Eagles this year) and Kirk Cousins (a fourth-round pick of the Washington Redskins this spring).

Dixon made one appearance at QB for the Spartans, completing three of five passes for 37 yards and a touchdown in mop-up work against Alabama-Birmingham in the 2007 season.

By the end of that season, the first of Michigan State's transition from John L. Smith to Mark Dantonio as head coach, Dixon decided he'd be better off seeking a fresh start elsewhere.

"Elsewhere" turned out to be back home at Duquesne, where he excelled at quarterback until a concussion suffered the previous week eliminated him from the equation at QB prior to a game against St. Francis late in what turned out to be his second of four seasons at Duquesne.

The coaching staff suggested he try to contribute at wide receiver once he had recovered sufficiently by the end of preparation that week.

"I caught seven or eight passes," Dixon remembered.

He had been fighting shoulder issues that had required surgery for a couple of years by then, and after his initial success catching passes rather than throwing them, "I didn't want to fight it anymore," Dixon said.

He wound up leaving Duquesne having accounted for 48 touchdowns in 40 games (25 passing, 23 receiving), having thrown for 2,685 yards and having hauled in 1,727 yards in catches.

And at 6 feet 5 and 222 pounds, Dixon fits the description of "big receiver" the Steelers lack.

Long-snapping is another story entirely, but Dixon's career to this point has been anything but the typical path.

His Steelers' story, conversely, is a familiar one to western Pennsylvanians.

"My grandpa had season tickets," he said. "My room was all Steelers, the wallpaper, the bedspread, the lampshades.

"I was at the ‘Harbaugh Game' (the 1995 AFC Championship Game, the one that ended on Jim Harbaugh's unsuccessful Hail Mary). I was at the last game at Three Rivers Stadium against the Redskins. I was at the Chicago game in the snow when the Bus ran over (Brian) Urlacher. We had won the state title the night before and were at the game and got introduced."

Dixon chose the Steelers over several free agent-rookie options not because of that, but because "they kept a lot of receivers last year. They'll keep you if they can use you."

Long-snapping wasn't part of the equation then, but with Dixon it's always a good idea to stay tuned.


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