Practice Report, Aug. 16

A QB controversy is raging in Steeler Nation as Mike Tomlin tries to tamp it down. Maybe it will help that Ben Roethlisberger will play Saturday. Or, maybe not. Plus, many, many notes from a festive day at St. Vincent College.

LATROBE – Since there's a reserve quarterback who completed a few passes against the Detroit Lions' backups, there HAS to be a quarterback controversy among those following the Pittsburgh Steelers.

And on Monday that alleged controversy between Dennis Dixon and Byron Leftwich raged at St. Vincent College.

The questions were bounced off every available offensive player and coach, and, to add a surreal touch, someone even mentioned Kordell Stewart.

"Seeing him in that (number) 10 jersey," Hines Ward said of Dixon, "all you think is Kordell Stewart. I mean, he's just a better version of Kordell Stewart. He's the new Kordell Stewart."

Is he better? Or newer?

"Newer, not better. I'm sorry," Ward said. "Let me get that right: a newer Kordell.

"You see the resemblance between the two," Ward continued. "Dennis has done everything you asked him to do, but it's still a learning curve for him. When he's supposed to look right, he's looking left, and stuff like that. That comes with practice."

Ward then explained to a reporter that, no, he'd rather not see the quarterbacks alternate each series during the regular season, but that he's not the coach. Ward then innocently said, "I'd like to get some more reps with Dennis, but Byron is doing well."

This was presented to Mike Tomlin later in the day as "Hines endorsed Dennis," and what does the Steelers' coach think of that?

"It was a nice start, guys. That's what it was," Tomlin said. "He was productive. Half that production came in the fourth quarter of the game, so we're not going to get carried away."

The bottom line of this alleged controversy is this: The coach has made a commitment to Leftwich and it's not going to change, and that no matter how Tomlin finesses his quotes about a "competition," there isn't one.

Tomlin did admit that Dixon could see the field in September as part of a change-of-pace package.

NOW, ABOUT BEN

Ben Roethlisberger isn't sure what Tomlin has in store for him in Saturday's preseason game at the New York Giants. Tomlin would only say, "We'll see."

However, offensive coordinator Bruce Arians gave it up:

"Ben's going to play this week," Arians said. If nothing else, putting Roethlisberger in the game would keep him out of Tomlin's ear.

"If you go back and look at the film," said Roethlisberger, "you'll see me talking to him about every three plays, trying to get in there. But he wasn't budging."

"I thought it was every second play," said Tomlin.

BACKFIELD IN MOTION

Running backs coach Kirby Wilson was fired up over the performances of the backs who didn't fumble Saturday night. Wilson said he was "really happy with the way (Isaac) Redman played. Hopefully he'll continue to grow and take the next step."

With his 60 yards on 15 carries, a screen pass he took for 13 yards, and his blitz pickups, Redman's on-field success was obvious.

That wasn't the case for Frank Summers, who had more subtle assignments to carry out. But Wilson praised his play as well.

"He had one lead (blocking) opportunity and he was one for one," Wilson said. "The big thing for him is to make sure he manages the backfield, lines up correctly, lines the halfback up correctly, and just makes sure that everyone knows their assignments back there and that he adjusts according to the front. Sometimes at that position, you can have an assignment and it changes based on the front shift or the rotation of a safety, and he's got to take that next level of understanding. I thought Frank did a really good job of that Saturday. That was a big thing for him and he came out of that with zero mental errors, so to me that's very good progress on his part."

PRACTICE NOTES

* Jonathan Dwyer (shoulder), Brett Keisel (calf) and Dwayne Wright (illness) missed Monday's practice and are day-to-day. NT Steve McLendon (knees) is two weeks away from resuming practice.

* The receivers and defensive backs worked on fade passes into the back corner of the end zone. Antonio Brown dropped two touchdowns, while the star of the drill was little known Isaiah Williams, who beat Joe Burnett, Will Allen and Ryan Mundy for touchdowns.

* Thaddeus Gibson drew criticism at the morning meeting for dropping into coverage too often Saturday night when he should've been rushing the passer. But Monday afternoon Gibson intercepted Roethlisberger on a short pass over the middle.

* Anthony Madison is clearly the top punt gunner on the team. At Monday's practice, he consistently beat the jammers off the line and hit top speed quickly.

* Brown dropped a punt and Tomlin hollered, "Just say ‘I was scared of Deebo' and everyone will understand." James "Deebo" Harrison had stepped in with the coverage team on that particular punt.

* In one-on-one drills, Jason Worilds easily ran past Max Starks on the first rep but was pushed to the ground by Starks on the second.

* Gibson made like Cliff Avril and ran past Flozell Adams not once but twice. After the second rep, reporters were questioning whether Gibson was touched at all by Adams.

* Tony Hills, praised for his Saturday night performance by coaches leaving the film room, did a good job on Worilds one-on-one.

* Dorian Brooks (6-2, 306) is the priority free agent from James Madison who was mentioned by Tomlin after Saturday's game as another potential short-yardage fullback. On Monday, the small guard was snapping during the 7-on-7 passing drills and said he's about to begin taking his first lessons at center.

* The third and final team scrimmage of the day was a workout for Antwaan Randle El, who was handed an end-around and then handed off to Mike Wallace for a reverse. A few players later, Randle El handed the same play off to Brown. And finally, Randle El faked a third reverse and threw back across the field incomplete.


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