Dennis Dixon Is Surer Bet for Steelers Than Michael Vick

Todd FlemingAnalyst IJuly 30, 2009

EUGENE, OR - NOVEMBER 03: Dennis Dixon #10of the Oregon Ducks runs the ball during the game against the Arizona State Sun Devils at Autzen Stadium on November 3, 2007 in Eugene, Oregon. The Ducks defeated the Sun Devils 35-23. (Photo by Otto Greule Jr/Getty Images)

The Steelers and Patriots are the two teams that sit atop just about all of the key pre-season power rankings as the teams most likely to win the Super Bowl this year. 

The teams share something else in common.  Las Vegas oddsmakers have made them the odds on favorites to sign Michael Vick, with both teams being given 4-1 odds.

While I realize that Las Vegas is a town where you can bet on anything and everything, I just don’t think it is in the cards for the Steelers.   

And it has nothing to do with the team’s reputation for not bringing in low character players.  Nor do I think there will be sizable protests or fan reaction against whatever team eventually signs Vick, which I think is a grossly overblown media concoction.

Michael Vick has served his time and certainly deserves the shot that he is being given.  Americans are a forgiving people and we almost universally believe that after someone has paid the consequences for his actions, he deserves a second chance. 

The exception in this case will be the PETA diehards.  But, what are the Vegas odds on finding a PETA commando who is also a football fan or, for that matter, brave enough to protest at some of the less hospitable NFL venues on game day?   

I have a hunch that Vick will be a model citizen when and if he comes back to the game, meaning that whatever team takes him could actually benefit from the redemption story that he will bring with him, especially with the almost universally beloved Tony Dungy staking his reputation on him. 

After all, who doesn’t love a redemption story? 

If movie fans could embrace Darth Vader, the ultimate villain, after he threw the wrinkly old guy with the weird eyes who shot lightning from his fingers into a pit, I'm guessing that football fans can welcome back Michael Vick, even if he is no longer a human highlight reel.      

The bigger problem with Vick and the real reason that most teams will not look in his general direction is that he has been out of football for two years.  His skills have almost certainly atrophied. 

This is a bigger concern on Vick than it might be on some other quarterbacks because his game was always about his almost superhuman athleticism, and not about pinpoint accuracy.  Those are the skills that are the first to go. 

In the case of Vick, once his athleticism starts to slip, the party is over.

So, why not the Steelers as the team where Vick can write his redemption story?  The short answer is Dennis Dixon.    

When the Steelers drafted Dennis Dixon in the fifth round of the 2008 draft, I was intrigued by the pick. 

I still am.

People forget how good he was in college when he was the signal caller for the Oregon Ducks.  He was absolutely incredible until he was sidelined by injury with a torn ACL, arguably the best player in college football at the time. 

Think Michael Vick, but with slightly less athleticism and a better passing touch.  He was absolutely scorching the best defenses in the land, including Michigan, back before they became a national punchline, and USC.

If he hadn’t gone down to injury, Dixon was a very real threat to win the Heisman trophy and almost certainly would have been drafted in the first two rounds.  For that matter, he may have led Oregon to a national championship. 

But, because of the injury, he slid all the way to the Steelers in the fifth round.  And with both a superb starting quarterback and a solid veteran backup, the Steelers were perfectly positioned to take a flyer on Dixon, giving him time to rehab from injury while improving his skill sets and learning the offense.

For their Super Bowl run in 2008, the Steelers had two savvy veteran quarterbacks behind Ben Roethlisberger in Byron Leftwich and Charlie Batch.  Leftwich is now gone and Batch is a year older. 

Dixon is also a year older and one more year removed from the injury that upended his sensational senior college season.  It is likely that Dixon will challenge for the backup role and may well be the surprise Steeler of 2009. 

And if the Steelers truly are looking for a player they could utilize in a “Wildcat” role, Dixon is that guy, not Vick.  

The key word in that last sentence is "if."  While the “Wildcat” offense remains a popular topic, I’m not convinced it will have a huge impact this season. 

Part of its early success was that it surprised defenses.  It no longer has that working for it.  And as an innovation, it doesn’t exactly rank up there with the forward pass, which was largely ignored despite being in the rules until Notre Dame unveiled it to shock then football power Army. 

The “Wildcat,” which is used differently by different teams, is more of a back to the future wrinkle that uses a single-wing formation.  It genuinely seemed to catch teams off-guard last season, working especially well for the Miami Dolphins

But, its unexpected success may ultimately lead to an early demise.  It was adopted by so many teams in one form or another that it won’t surprise anyone come next season.  Defenses will no longer have to spend inordinate amounts of time trying to figure out how to scheme against it. 

After this season, we’ll have a greater appreciation for whether or not it has staying power or if it was more of a one-hit wonder, the NFL's version of "Come on Eileen." 

My bet is on the latter. 

In the case of the Steelers, I’m also not sure offensive coordinator Bruce Arians is a “Wildcat” kind of guy.  He did not show a knack for innovation in 2008, taking predictability to an art form at times. 

If someone like Mike Mularkey or Ken Whisenhunt were running the offense, two innovative coordinators who were always looking for new ways to use their players, I would put more stock in seeing the Steelers put emphasis on adding those plays to their playbook and perhaps giving a brief look in Vick's direction.

But, Arians strikes me as more of a meat and potatoes kind of guy.     

The other event that has caused speculation to surround the Steelers as a potential Vick suitor are Ben Roethlisberger’s current legal problems.  But, this is also a red herring. 

Roethlisberger is facing a civil trial.  Even if he loses there, which seems highly unlikely, he will not be convicted of a crime, meaning he almost certainly won’t be suspended.  

Even the no-nonsense commissioner is unlikely to suspend someone solely based on the outcome of a civil trial, especially one that is likely to devolve into a "he said, she said" affair.

The bigger football concern with Roethlisberger is whether he can stay healthy if he continues to get sacked 50 times a season. 

And if Roethlisberger does go down, does anyone really think Michael Vick will be an ideal full-time starting quarterback this season? 

The only quarterback I can think of who I would less like to see suiting up in the black and gold to lead the Steelers' offense is Brett Favre.

The bottom line:  I don’t think the Steelers are likely to show much interest in adding a Wildcat flavor to their offense.  But, if they do, they don’t need Michael Vick to do it.  They already have an ideal Wildcat quarterback on the roster in Dennis Dixon.   


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