Tomlin makes decision for cautious Steelers

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

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After watching Byron Leftwich suffer a knee injury in the final preseason game a year ago when he was slated to start the first month of the regular season in place of the suspended Ben Roethlisberger Steelers coach Mike Tomlin isn't about to take that chance again.

Tomlin said Roethlisberger will not play against Carolina on Thursday, giving the starting nod to Charlie Batch followed by Dennis Dixon.

"We haven't decided the distribution of reps," Tomlin said. "All we have decided is that Charlie will start first and Dennis will also play."

Roethlisberger has had a solid preseason, completing 21 of 31 passes for 361 yards, five touchdowns and no interceptions. He has a 146.6 passer rating. Roethlisberger had started every preseason finale in Tomlin's first four seasons.

"It's time to start talking Baltimore and start looking at film," Roethlisberger said.

Tomlin showed a video to the team Tuesday depicting how important the final preseason game was for some players when it came to earning roster spots last year.

"As we sat here last year at this time, Stevenson Sylvester was on the outside looking in," Tomlin said. "He was a third-team inside linebacker. Patrick Bailey was a second-team outside linebacker. Stevenson Sylvester made enough plays in this game to convince us that he should stay."

Tomlin said he is not trying to put too much emphasis on the importance of the Carolina game, but he knows it will be paramount for a few.

"I do acknowledge decisions are undecided, and how guys perform will be a factor on the other side of it," Tomlin said.

Ruled out for the game are Jerricho Cotchery, Chris Carter and Ike Taylor. Tomlin said he has not made a decision whether James Farrior, Troy Polamalu, Bryant McFadden and Maurkice Pouncey will play.

The Steelers released nose tackle Anthony Gray, linebacker Chris Ellis, cornerback Niles Brinkley and wide receiver Terrence McCrae of Connellsville to get their roster to 80. The team has until Saturday to set their 53-man roster.

If Pouncey sits out, veteran Trai Essex likely will start at center only nine days after the Steelers signed him.

"Whether or not Maurkice plays in the game or not, Trai is going to get some work at center," Tomlin said.

Essex was the Steelers' starting right guard a year ago and can also play the other guard spot, center and both tackle spots.

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