On the eve of the Pittsburgh Steelers third preseason game against the Denver Broncos, here's a short Q&A between myself and John Bena, the accomplished Broncos blogger for SB Nation at Mile High Report. I sent three his way as well, and will be happy to share them with you if we get them back in time for tomorrow's tilt.
1. We all know Big Ben will be gone for at least 4 weeks to start the season. Byron Leftwich seems to be the guy right now, but Dennis Dixon has been impressive. He’ll reportedly get some reps with the first team against the Broncos. Who is your preference to get the Steelers through the season’s first month, and what is the expectation?
BTSC: My preference has been that Dennis Dixon gets the nod. I've been clamoring for that on Behind the Steel Curtain for quite some time. There's two main reasons. One, I think Dixon has more upside thatn does Leftwich at this stage in their respective careers. Leftwich is no slouch, don't get me wrong. But at 30 years of age, he's pretty much shown what he's capable of and what his limitations are. Dixon? It's not so clear what his ceiling is. And from the looks of it this preseason, he's far enough along with his development that it's safe to say that he wouldn't be a total disaster. Secondly, the time is now to see what the Steelers have in Dixon. If not now, never, as Dixon is entering the final year of his contract. We've seen what teams are willing to give up possible solutions at quarterback - just look at the Seattle Seahawks and how they traded for Charlie Whitehurst. Of course, there's the chance that Ben Roethlisberger gets injured or that he even slips up and finds himself in trouble off the field. But if nothing else, the Steelers may be able to get some compensation next offseason when Dixon hits the open market were he to get a chance to sign early this season.
As for expectations, I think most Steelers fans are looking at 3-1, and no worse than 2-2 during the first four games of the year. The division opener against Baltimore in Week 4 will obviously be tough.
2. The Steelers appear on the verge of starting a rookie lineman for the first time in 5 years. How good has Maurkice Pouncey been and are you confident he can handle the job once the season starts?
BTSC: Pouncey has looked oustanding thus far through training camp and the first two games of the preseason. His performance against Jamal Williams on Sunday should go a long ways towards determining if he winds up as the team's starting center. If not, he'll likely still be a starter at right guard.
3. We all know how much Troy Polamalu means to the Steelers’ success. Give us another guy that the Steelers just can’t afford to lose this season that many people don’t think about.
BTSC: There's a number of indispensable stars on the Steelers roster. Pittsburgh has struggled when Aaron Smith (defensive end) has gone down in 2007 and 2009. The Steelers might also be in a bind if Ike Taylor (cornerback) were lost. Same with Hines Ward and Heath Miller. But really, I think Polamalu belongs in a class of his own in terms of bringing something truly unique to the table. There's really nobody like him in the league.