Never Too Much Of A Good Thing

LATROBE - When the Steelers signed Charlie Batch as a free agent in June after he was released by Detroit, it caused more than one head to turn.

In Batch, the Steelers were getting a quarterback with 46 career NFL starts. And with Kordell Stewart firmly entrenched as the team's starting quarterback, and the team just having signed veteran Tommy Maddox to a five-year contract extension as Stewart's backup, the addition of Batch seemed excessive. But in the real world, there are certain things you can never have enough of: good looks, money, and quarterbacks.

With three quarterbacks who have played in a combined 204 regular season games and 15 NFL seasons, the Steelers have the kind of depth at quarterback most teams can only dream of. "When I was with the Rams, we had Chris Miller, Chris Chandler, and myself and we all ended up playing that season," said Maddox, who played with St. Louis in 1994. "It helps to have depth. If you have that kind of depth, it's a luxury."

It's a luxury few other NFL teams have in today's NFL, where free agency and the salary cap have kept most teams from stockpiling good quarterbacks.

"I haven't seen this kind of depth (since I've been coaching)," said Steelers offensive coordinator Mike Mularkey. "I have confidence in all those guys. It's a nice problem we have at this position. We're fortunate. There are some teams out there who are panicking every time the quarterback drops back. Every time he drops back, their hearts are beating a little faster."

Witness the Seattle Seahawks, who lost starting quarterback Trent Dilfer to a knee injury for two months over the weekend and are now scouring the waiver wire for a possible replacement. Or how about the New York Jets, who lost Vinny Testaverde in the first game of the 1999 season to a torn Achilles tendon and never recovered?

The Steelers hope that nothing happens to Stewart, who is coming off of his first Pro Bowl season. But they know if something does, they have options behind him.

"We're a very solid group with a lot of talent there," Maddox said. "I think the Jets a couple of years ago lost Vinny in the first game and ended up having a horrible year. With us, you wouldn't want anything to happen to Stew, but if it does, I don't think our year would just go down the drain." As if to drive that point home last week, Maddox and Batch put together a strong effort in the Steelers' 16-6 preseason-opening loss to the Jets at Heinz Field.

Maddox completed 12-of-16 passes for 147 yards. Not to be outdone, Batch was 7-of-9 for 71 yards. All of that after Stewart completed 5-of-7 passes for 80 yards in just over a quarter. The Steelers liked what they saw of Maddox in that game so much, he likely won't play at all when the team plays at Washington Sunday.

Head coach Bill Cowher said Stewart would play most if not all of the first half Sunday, with Batch following and Tee Martin mopping up. The team knows it must get Batch familiar with its offense because he won't get a lot of work in practice other than running the scout team once the season begins.

While Cowher isn't about to change his run-first philosophy, he does recognize that the abundance of veteran quarterbacks in training camp has helped the team's passing game tremendously.

"Our passing game is way ahead of our running game," Cowher said. "For me to say that, that's probably the first time I've (ever) said that since I've been in training camp."

Mularkey said the addition of Batch has also given the team something else: a new voice in the team meetings. "They're invited to make suggestions," Mularkey said. "That's another set of eyes and another mind we can feed off of. But (quarterbacks) are the best group of all, because they know it all. "Sitting out here this morning, we had a break with special teams and (Batch) was talking about some of the things we do and how it was comparable to some of the things they did, but maybe a different formation or different personnel grouping to do the same thing. It would do what we do already, but it would maybe give it a different look." And with the Steelers constantly looking to diversify and give different looks to what they do, that kind of input can be invaluable.

Maddox said the addition of another veteran quarterback also helps in another way. "I know when Stew is out there, he'll come and ask us if what we saw on the field was what he said," Maddox said. "And when I'm out there, I'll ask him and Charlie. It just reinforces what you're doing out there if someone else is seeing the same things."

--Dale Lolley

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