John Steigerwald's Sports Column

Steelers hope Charlie Batch can make most of minimal reps

Wait, back up: These quarterbacks need practice

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I’m confused again. This time, it’s about playing quarterback in the NFL.


I know it’s dangerous because the Steelers have had so many quarterbacks hurt that whoever played QB for your turkey bowl team is up next. My problem is with the difficulty of playing the position and what is or should be expected of a backup.


I believe I heard after Byron Leftwich made his annual one-game appearance Sunday night that he had only taken five snaps with the first team offense all season prior to his preparation for starting against the Ravens.


Maybe that’s an exaggeration, but it’s obvious that all around the NFL, backups get very little work with the first team.


Is this a good approach for a player who’s one play away from having an entire season depend on his ability to step in and be a competent NFL quarterback?


Why do the starting quarterbacks have to monopolize the practice time? I’m going to guess that it’s because the position is so hard to play that every possible minute of practice has to be devoted to his preparation.


This is where I start to get really confused.


If it’s of paramount importance for the starter to get 98 percent of the snaps in every practice beginning with the first game, how can there be any expectation for success by a less talented backup who hasn’t thrown a pass in a game for three months?


Based on the attention given to keeping the starter sharp during the season, shouldn’t the coaches be thrilled if the backup does anything better than throw up all over himself when finally given a chance to play?


Maybe that should be kept in mind when we evaluate the performances by Leftwich and the next man up, Charlie Batch, or any other backup in the NFL.


Maybe, one of these years, an NFL coach will see some value in spending more time getting his backup quarterback ready to play. One way would be to put him in during a blowout and, instead of having mercy on his opponent, have him, you know, play quarterback and try to score touchdowns.


Tell any coach who complains about running up the score to stop whining.


n Signing Plaxico Burress was a good move by the Steelers, but let’s not get carried away with expectations here, either.


Burress is a body – a tall one – but a body. He’s 35 years old and hasn’t caught a ball in a game in 10 months. When he was with the Steelers the last time, he was just good enough to kill his quarterback.


He would make just enough big plays to become the go-to guy in key situations. And way too often, he would drop the ball.


It’s ridiculous to suggest that the Steelers signed Burress because they want someone who’s better at catching a fade pass than Mike Wallace, who failed to get both feet down on one Sunday night against Baltimore.


He’s not as good as Wallace at catching the fade and he’s not better than Wallace at catching any other kind of pass. Unless he became a lot better at it after he left Pittsburgh, Burress is probably the worst tall receiver in the NFL at high-pointing the ball.


Still, it’s a good signing because Burress is a better-than-average wide receiver who, because of his size and speed, will draw a lot of attention from opposing secondaries.


n There’s a decent chance that a Steeler will tackle Browns kick returner/wide receiver Josh Cribbs by the hair. If he does, it will be legal. That’s right, it is not against the rules to grab a player’s flowing locks as he’s running by you and drag him down.


It happened to Cribbs last week against Dallas, but the Cowboys player was penalized for making what appeared to the official as a horse collar tackle. The replay showed he grabbed Cribbs’ hair.


That brings me to a question.


If I’m an NFL owner, do I want a player, who’s costing me $4 or $5 million a year, to run by people and make himself difficult to tackle? Or do I want to have one who has a tackling handle available for defenders?


What if, late in the game, the Steelers have just gone ahead and they kick to Cribbs, who blows through the coverage and is on his way to score until Shaun Suisham grabs him by the hair and throws him down?


Would it be bad form for Cribbs’ owner, GM or coach to ask him to lose the hair? Or maybe wear it in a bun under his helmet?


n The NHL Lockout of 2012 goes on, with all games through Dec. 14 canceled. Do you think it’s beginning to sink in for the players that the owners aren’t going to give in? The longer it goes, the less likely a win for the players appears.


It’s time they cut their losses.


John Steigerwald writes a Sunday column for the Observer-Reporter. His website is justwatchthegame.com.


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