PITTSBURGH – Heath Miller was informed a few days before the opener that he was the team’s emergency quarterback this season.
Miller didn’t think he would come as close to playing the position as he did Monday night when Ben Roethlisberger left with an injury and Miller was behind only the fragile Byron Leftwich.
Rumor had it that Miller was even warming up on the sideline, but he denied it.
“I don’t figure there’s any use in me warming up if I’m just going to hand it off when I get in there,” Miller said with a laugh.
Miller was a star prep quarterback in southwest Virginia and went to the University of Virginia to play the position. That’s where he remained on the depth chart for about a month, even though he was already playing tight end for the scout team.
Can he still throw it?
“Not like these guys,” Miller said. “If I can get the play called and get us lined up and get the ball snapped I’ll be happy.”
Miller might want to work on that a bit, because for the next month or so he’s going to be the team’s No. 3 quarterback behind two veteran quarterbacks who’ve spent more games on the injured reserve list in Pittsburgh than they have on the field.
First up, ahead of 38-year-old Charlie Batch, is 32-year-old Leftwich, who’ll start Sunday night at Heinz Field against the Baltimore Ravens.
“Byron’s got a great arm,” Miller said. “Byron’s been through a lot of battles in this league throughout his career. He’s seen it all, been through it all. He hasn’t had a lot of snaps through the past few years. Fortunately he got his feet wet last game.”
And he stayed healthy. Leftwich has finished three of his last six seasons on IR, including all of 2011 with the Steelers.
But that’s not the harshest criticism of Leftwich. Not even close. That would pertain to his big wind-up. And when he finally throws the ball, it’s a hot one.
Leftwich was asked both about his release and his lack of touch by Pittsburgh reporters Wednesday after Steelers coach Mike Tomlin announced he would replace Roethlisberger, who’s out with shoulder and rib injuries.
“I normally defend myself in this process and say a whole bunch of numbers and point it out, but I’ll save that for the offseason,” Leftwich said.
He admitted to hearing such criticisms ever since he was drafted No. 7 overall in 2003 by the Jacksonville Jaguars.
“I heard about that before I became a pro,” he said. “I heard about that coming out when I was at Marshall. You hear all the bad things about yourself those three months after your last college game to the draft. You hear it all (laughs). I’ve heard it all. Yeah, I’ve got the long wind-up. I’m not the fastest guy in the world. But, I believe I can play a little bit. We’ll just see Sunday night.
“You know, I don’t have to put any pressure on myself to go out there and do something different or do something special, I’m just telling myself to go out there and play the way that I play and we’ll see if we can win the football game.”
In regard to his lack of short-range touch, Leftwich was asked if the Todd Haley “dink and dunk” offense fits his style.
“If it’s dinking, dunking, whatever you’re going to call it, my job is to hit the guy with the ball who’s open,” Leftwich said. “I don’t care if it’s 5 yards down the field or 25 yards down the field.
“People are entitled to their opinion. I understand in this situation nobody’s probably giving us a shot. And that’s understandable. Any time you lose a quarterback like Ben, let’s be honest, he was playing on an MVP level. I think he’s an elite quarterback in this league. And he’s down. We understand that and I understand everybody’s opinion and how they feel about the situation. But we’re going to have to play the game Sunday night and we’ll see what happens. Somebody’s going to win it and I’m going to do my best to make sure it’s us.”