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Back-up Plan?

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It's scary enough that Ben Roethlisberger was in a serious motorcycle crash. And while Roethlisberger's life may not be in danger, the Steelers 2006 season may be. With Tommy Maddox long gone (not that his best days weren't also long gone), the Steelers are left with only Charlie Batch and 2006 draftee Omar Jacobs of Bowling Green.

Batch, a journeyman backup from Eastern Michigan, did a solid job backing up Big Ben last year, but he's not capable of carrying a team to the playoffs over 16 games. I admire Batch for the great job he did against those dreadful Cleveland Browns in Week 10 of last year, in which he completed 13 of 19 passes to keep Pittsburgh in the game long enough to win it. Still, he has a career passer rating of 76.9. If Pittsburgh's forced to go with Batch for an extended stretch, trouble looms.

Jacobs is an interesting player, and I thought a wise late round pick for Pittsburgh. Like Roethlisberger, he's a big MAC conference quarterback, but unlike Ben, he left college early, and his stocked slipped during his junior year. In time, he may develop into a strong backup for Roethlisberger, but he's in no position to lead an NFL offense this early in his career. Quite simply: the Steelers would sign a veteran free agent before they handed the reins to Jacobs. It's important to note that this isn't the same situation as 2004, when Tommy Maddox' injury forced the team to quickly mend on the fly, which led to Roethlisberger's starting job. It's June, and Pittsburgh will have plenty of time to shop for options.

If Roethlisberger's healing timetable is 8 weeks, and I don't think it's realistic to expect much short of that, we're looking at a mid-August return to relative health for Roethlisberger. The Steelers open their season on September 7th at home against Miami, which wouldn't give Ben much rehab time. If everything breaks the right way (pardon the pun), Roethlisberger may be getting back to football strength in early September. If that's the case, Pittsburgh can go with Batch until Ben's ready to go. But that's a big if, considering the severity of the injuries and the limited information we have on the blows to his jaw and knees.

The Steelers, probably AFC North favorites as of yesterday morning, face a far different situation today. We'll continue to pray for Ben's health. And once we know he's going to recover fully, we'll turn our prayers toward that happening very, very quickly.