Tomlin faces balancing act with Steelers QBs' practice time

PITTSBURGH -- Ben Roethlisberger is taking nearly all the snaps with the regulars -- and apparently will until the Steelers' voluntary practices end next week.

What coach Mike Tomlin isn't saying is how practice time will be divided during training camp, when the Steelers will be in the unique position of preparing two starting quarterbacks for the same season.

One quarterback -- apparently, Byron Leftwich -- must be ready to play during Roethlisberger's six-game suspension. Roethlisberger also needs plenty of camp work because he can't practice while he's suspended.

No wonder wide receiver Antwaan Randle El calls it a "tricky" and "delicate" situation, and Tomlin doesn't disagree.

If Tomlin gives too much work to Leftwich, it could harm Roethlisberger when it's his time to play in October. Give too much time to Roethlisberger, and the Steelers risk experiencing a slow start with an unprepared quarterback.

During the ongoing voluntary practices, the designated No. 1 quarterback -- currently, Roethlisberger -- takes nearly all the work with the starters. That's likely to change once training camp starts July 30 and full contact is permitted.

"The minute you step on the field at Latrobe, you're competing for work, you're competing to make it," Tomlin said Wednesday. "You're preparing yourself to face the challenges of the season. So it's a different approach. One of the fundamental differences is that we're suited and booted in training camp. And I acknowledge that's a big element of the game."

Tomlin also must find snaps for third-year pro Dennis Dixon, who was expected to be the No. 2 quarterback until Roethlisberger was suspended, and longtime backup Charlie Batch.

"When you're talking about working with four quarterbacks, reps are going to be scarce at some instances," Tomlin said.

Leftwich, acquired from the Tampa Bay Buccaneers after Roethlisberger was suspended April 21 for violating the NFL's personal-conduct policy, took most of the snaps while Roethlisberger was barred from practicing until this week. Leftwich is working primarily with the backups.

"What we really want to do is give Ben quality reps so he can get re-acclimated and improve and work on his game," Tomlin said. "And we want to continue to give Dennis his reps because he is a young guy. For the purpose of this week, if there's a reduction, it is going to be at the expense of Byron Leftwich and Charlie Batch."

Complicating the issue is the Steelers are breaking in several new wide receivers, including Arnaz Battle, formerly of the San Francisco 49ers, and rookies Emmanuel Sanders and Antonio Brown. Also, Randle El returned to the Steelers after spending four seasons with the Washington Redskins.

"You've got to make sure the guys are in the right positions, help the guys you can, especially the young guys," Leftwich said. "We've got a lot of young guys running around. Some of them don't know what they're doing yet. Every opportunity you can to lead this football team, you've got to lead those guys."

Copyright 2010 by The Associated Press

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