LATROBE – The question to the scout was a simple one:
Who’s having the best camp?
“I’ll tell you,” he said as he leaned in close. “Dennis Dixon is really jumping off the screen whenever I see him on tape.
“But,” he added, “if you use that information, people will know where it came from.”
Um, with all due respect, that couldn’t possibly be true. Of the Steelers’ personnel department, everyone who’s been asked that question has said the same thing:
Dennis Dixon is jumping off the screen.
Dixon took in the news with a broad smile.
“It’s still early,” he said. “Obviously you want to set that tone early, so having heard that, it brings tremendous confidence to me and I want to continue to do that.”
Not that Dixon needs any more confidence. Through the first five days of camp he’s put nearly every throw on the money, short or deep, and he’s using touch when he needs it, throws frozen ropes when he needs that.
The third-year vet’s also showing great command of the running game. He’s been a “Wildcat” package unto himself, but the Steelers are having him do more than just tuck the ball and run sweeps.
On Wednesday, for instance, Dixon directed the old-school option attack, and on the next snap time-warped ahead to the modern era with the read-option series that he executed so well at the University of Oregon.
Dixon’s confidence in every facet of the game this training camp is making him look like a different player than the one who repeatedly covered his facemask with both hands after making one game-turning type of mistake after another during spring workouts.
What changed in the last couple months?
“I put in a tremendous amount of work in the offseason,” he said. “I worked on the little things that I needed to work on, like footwork. And like I told everybody else, my leadership skills, I want to be able to focus on that this year, because I lead by my actions more than by my words, and I see that by looking at guys like Byron Leftwich and Ben Roethlisberger that vocal skills are part of leadership as well.”
However, it’s unlikely that Dixon will get the chance to lead the Steelers this season. Even though Coach Mike Tomlin reiterated Wednesday that the battle to replace the suspended Ben Roethlisberger will be determined in preseason games, it’s nearly a certainty that Byron Leftwich will be given the job. He’s already been given twice the number of practice reps Dixon has been given, and coaches don’t like to scuttle such plans at the last minute.
“That’s probably true,” Dixon said. “I could’ve been better prepared in the spring. Then again, that was something new to me. I wasn’t used to getting all of those reps. It was something new to me, and I didn’t want that to be a concern coming into training camp. I wanted to be dialed in this time around.”
He is. Even though Dixon’s taking snaps behind second and third-team linemen, and throwing to second and third-team receivers, he’s clearly flourishing. And he says he wouldn’t take a backup assignment to Leftwich personally.
“All I can do is control what I can do,” he said. “But people see that I’m improving day in and day out. That’s all I can ask, because when my number’s called, I want to be able to perform just like I’m performing now, if not better.”