A baseball coach of mine had a tradition the players of my class, as well as the players of the classes before me, came to look for at the start of each year.
If our starting pitcher threw a ball at any point in the first at-bat of the season, he'd freak out.
"Here we go again!" he'd growl to our pitching coach and anyone else within ear shot. "Another year we can't throw a G-D strike!"
It's easy to fall into that pattern. Funny, too.
Watching the Steelers preseason games, we typically fall into our tradition of labeling a back-up running back our low-or-undrafted Diamond in the FieldTurf. It wasn't long ago I remember raving about a young Willie Parker, and how he's our future starting tailback. Then, Gary Russell came along, I was convinced he was the same way. Now, it's Isaac "Redzone" Redman.
I don't see that tradition stopping any time soon. With the way the NFL has evolved, every team is going to select a good runner late in the draft, and that runner will compete for snaps right away.
One area the Steelers haven't had to worry about the phenomenon of Training Camp Darling is at quarterback.
I haven't channeled my inner-Coach Peck, and said, "Here we go again, another preseason in which the back-up outplays the starters."
It seems Dennis Dixon is starting his own tradition.
Dixon looked good. I mean, really good. Ron Burgundy good. And I don't mean good from the perspective of every broadcaster who falls all over himself with the chance to talk about a quarterback running the "Wildcat" offense. He threw excellent intermediate routes (the real sign of a great passer), they came off his hand nicely and stuck to the receiver.
He made good decisions, exploited defensive gaffes and even took his own busted play 22 yards round the right side for a first down.
Does Pittsburgh have a, dare I say it, quarterback controversy?
The last time we uttered such a phrase was when coach Bill Cowher had to announce to the media that Tommy Maddox is healthy, but Ben Roethlisberger will start the remainder of the 2004 season. So it's been a while.
I did not jump on the Double-D Bandwagon initially, mostly due to the phenomenon we've experienced at running back over the last few preseasons. He's playing against third-teamers. The running games for both teams usually become the focal point of the time the third-string QB is in there. We're used to seeing Chaz Batch, Brian St. Pierre and even had a stint with Omar Jacobs.
A step ahead of those players is not much of step in the NFL.
But still...that throw to rookie Manny Sanders early in the third quarter (for 24 yards) and the deer-like speed and grace he used to escape the missed handoff, managing to scamper inside the Giants 10...a beautiful throw and a great decision.
Final score: Dixon 14, Leftwich 7, Roethlisberger 3.
The first team offense had two series under Roethlisberger in which busted plays resulted in 2nd-and-17 situations. Granted, Justin Tuck was not chasing after him, but Dixon showed tremendous poise and better than everything else, he kept his eyes down the field.
It just seems like Dixon gives the Steelers less chance of 2nd-and-17 situations. Does that mean he gives them more of a chance to avoid a sub-.500 start to the season?
To Byron Leftwich's credit, the likely starter also showed some of those same traits, and hit WR Mike Wallace with a beautiful scoring strike in the second quarter. I'm not sure what he was doing on the QB sneak at the end of the first half, but he performed reasonably well overall.
Could Dixon had made that throw to Wallace in stride? Perhaps not, but I doubt the Statue of Liberwich will cause defenses to plan around his legs. Leftwich has the right arm of a Howitzer cannon, but the arming and firing time of one as well. He didn't look nearly as consistent on his out-route throws. Leftwich made the play of the game, and I'm sure it won't be the last time "Leftwich 40+ yards to Wallace" appears in the scorebook.
Just like the first preseason game, though, the story when the clock struck zero was Dixon. He's flashing tons of potential, and while it seems to be set in stone that Leftwich will start the first quarter of the season, the Double-D Bandwagon got at least one new member last night. And that was someone refusing to buy into the hype.
Here we go again...another season with another team with its fans crying quarterback controversy.