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Mike Tomlin Takes Smart Approach Starting Byron Leftwich

Chris Gazze@ChrisG_PITCorrespondent IMay 20, 2010

CINCINNATI - OCTOBER 19:  Byron Leftwich #4 of the Pittsburgh Steelers throws a pass during the NFL game against the Cincinnati Bengals at Paul Brown Stadium on October 19, 2008 in Cincinnati, Ohio.  (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)
Andy Lyons/Getty Images

The experienced veteran or the exciting up and comer? That is the decision that head coach Mike Tomlin has to make to make between Byron Leftwich and Dennis Dixon.

One of these two quarterbacks will start the season for the Pittsburgh Steelers while Ben Roethlisberger serves his suspension.

While it is likely that either quarterback will only start four games, it will be a critical four games as the Steelers cannot afford to fall back in the division race right at the start of the season. Considering this, Tomlin is making a wise decision by allowing Leftwich to work as the number one quarterback.

This does not mean there will not be a competition. According to Tomlin, there will be a “pecking order.”

“All guys will be given an opportunity, not an equal opportunity, that’s just the nature of this game, the nature of this business. I will make those judgments based on intuition and knowledge I have of the men at an appropriate time and we’ll proceed.”

For now, it should be clear that Leftwich gives the Steelers the best opportunity to win and deserves to be atop the depth chart.

In spot duty in 2008, Leftwich went 21 for 36 for 306 yards with two touchdowns and no interceptions. His highlight of the season was stepping in for

Roethlisberger in a primetime game at Washington. He finished with 129 yards and a touchdown on 7 for 10 passing.

Leftwich’s performances with Pittsburgh have surpassed what Dixon has accomplished.

Only playing in two games in two seasons, Dixon has completed 13 of 27 passes for 148 yards with a touchdown and an interception.

Dixon’s one interception was a game changing interception. In a crucial divisional match up against the Baltimore Ravens, Dixon threw a costly interception in overtime which eventually led to the game-winning field goal.

However, Dixon’s game changing abilities can be positive as well.

With offensive coordinator Bruce Arians calling a conservative game without a healthy backup quarterback, Dixon was only given a few chances to showcase his abilities as a playmaker.

Each time Dixon was given the ability to leave the pocket, he made a positive play. One big run was called back due to a penalty. He ran for a 24-yard touchdown and threw a 33-yard touchdown.

Even with all of this potential to be a very good quarterback, Dixon would still be learning on the job if he is the starter opening weekend.

Leftwich, however, is a quarterback with 57 games played, including a playoff game. His experience alone gives him the edge over Dixon at this point of the offseason.

The Steelers need a reliable quarterback who can make enough plays to win the game, but also not make the mistakes that could cost the team the game. Leftwich is the quarterback to accomplish this and this is why he is currently the getting reps as the No. 1 quarterback.

As the Steelers enter training camp and the preseason, the competition will intensify and Dixon should be given every opportunity to unseat Leftwich for the starting job. In order to do this, Dixon will have to be outstanding not just at practice, but in game situations.

If he is not, Leftwich will continue on as the starter. Pittsburgh cannot afford to give Dixon on the job training. Leftwich is the experienced veteran who has proved himself over seven seasons and has earned the opportunity to be the top quarterback heading into camp.

Tomlin has created a situation that is best for the Steelers as they have to begin the 2010 season without their star quarterback. He has a proven commodity in Leftwich, but has also indirectly issued a challenge to Dixon to show that he must go out and prove himself if he wants to be a starter in this league.

But do not expect the competition to last long. If Dixon cannot prove himself early, Leftwich will be named the starter as the Steelers look to start off the season strong in Roethlisberger’s absence.

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