Can Leftwich and Dixon keep the Steelers afloat until Big Ben returns?

8-14-10:  Ben Roethlisberger  and Byron Leftwich  during the Pittsburgh Steelers vs Detroit Lions game in Pittsburgh at Heinz Field.

Merry training camp season, everyone. It’s been a long offseason, but football is finally gearing up again and to celebrate I’m rolling out a new series on TSR entitled “2010 NFL Question Marks,” where I discuss one or two of the biggest concerns that teams have heading into the new season. Granted, some teams have more issues than others, but I’ll primarily be focusing on the biggest problem areas. Today I’ll be discussing the affects that Ben Roethlisberger’s suspension could have on the Steelers’ quarterback position.

After trading Santonio Holmes to the Jets in the offseason, some feel as though the Steelers’ biggest weakness is at receiver. But Hines Ward continues to be the model for production and Mike Wallace is turning heads as a potential deep threat. I also like promising sixth-rounder Antonio Brown and there have been reports that third rounder Emmanuel Sanders could beat out Antwaan Randle El for the No. 3 receiver job by the start of the season.

If I’m the Steelers, receiver isn’t my main concern – quarterback is.

As of this writing, Ben Roethlisberger is still slated to miss the first six games of the season due to a suspension. That number could be reduced to four games, but Roger Goodell has yet to make announce his decision either way.

But even if it’s only four games, the Steelers still have to be concerned about getting off to a slow start with either Byron Lefwich or youngster Dennis Dixon at the helm. They host the Falcons in Week 1 before facing the Titans and Buccaneers in back-to-back road games. They host the Ravens in Week 4, their bye is Week 5 and then they play the Browns at home in Week 6 before going on the road to Miami in Week 7.

While it’s a rather fruitless endeavor to try and predict the success of teams in preseason, it’s probably safe to assume the Falcons, Ravens and Dolphins will be playoff contenders, while the Titans will be improved as well. I’m sure if the Steelers can play .500 ball while Big Ben is out, they’ll take it. But what if Leftwich and/or Dixon put them in a hole early in the season?

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Top 5 Active Special Teams TD Leaders

Donte HallSome NFL players are just electrifying to watch when they return kicks. Some are even more electrifying when they are on your fantasy team, or if your D/ST gives you six points for a kick return score. Here is a list of the top five (or so) active players in this very department:

1. Dante Hall, St. Louis Rams (12)—He’s lost a step or two, but between 2002 and 2004 while with Kansas City, this guy was positively money on returns. You just couldn’t kick the ball to him without that nagging fear of a big return. In 2003, Hall had 4 TDs, including a 100-yard kick return and a 93 yard punt return. Just sick.

2. Devin Hester, Chicago Bears (11)—Those 11 returns were in just TWO seasons, 2006 and 2007, as Hester’s focus in 2008 was more as a receiver. But 11 TDs in two seasons is amazing, and consider that he also returned the opening kickoff of Super Bowl 41 all the way.

3. Allen Rossum, San Francisco 49ers (8)—He’s played for five different teams, but that doesn’t make him any less dangerous to defend.

4. Antwaan Randle El, Washington Redskins (6)—He only has one return TD in the last three years while with the Redskins, but still very dangerous as a return man and a receiver in the open field.

4 (tie). Steve Smith, Carolina Panthers (6)—He doesn’t return kicks anymore, but why should one of the game’s perennial Top 5 receivers be relegated to kickoff duty anymore?

4 (tie). Joshua Cribbs, Cleveland Browns (6)—Only 26 years old this season, Cribbs has been one of the lone bright spots on a struggling Browns’ team his first three seasons.

Source: Pro Football Reference

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