Steelers take a chance on Dixon

PITTSBURGH — Dennis Dixon isn’t debating how high he would have gone in the NFL draft if he hadn’t torn up a knee. Or how much money the injury cost him. Or if he would have avoided going to a team that recently signed its starting quarterback to a $100 million contract.
Dixon, one of college football’s best players last season for the University of Oregon before tearing the anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee, wants to be a quarterback in the NFL. If it’s the Pittsburgh Steelers who give him that chance, that’s OK.
The Steelers didn’t need to draft a quarterback during the second day of the NFL draft on Sunday, but felt Dixon was worth a fifth-round gamble. Even if some teams felt he’s too slender at 6-foot-4 and 200 pounds to take the punishment of pro football, and some wanted to move him to another position.
The injury prematurely ended his season with three games remaining and, with it, any chance of the Ducks playing in a major bowl or Dixon possibly winning the Heisman Trophy.
“I wouldn’t want to speculate on that,” Steelers quarterbacks coach Ken Anderson said, asked where Dixon would have been drafted if he hadn’t gotten hurt. “But he’s a guy that we thought highly of at the quarterback position with the potential he offers.”
Some of that potential: His excellent speed. His ability to throw the deep ball. His athleticism, His playmaking.
Much as the Steelers drafted Illinois running back Rashard Mendenhall on the first round Saturday to complement Pro Bowl running back Willie Parker, Dixon gives them down-the-road protection should Roethlisberger or backup Charlie Batch get hurt.
“Yes, coach (Mike) Tomlin likes me as a quarterback,” Dixon said. “He likes what I can bring. I can throw the ball at different levels with strength. I know I have a lot to work on, and I’m willing and ready with open arms."

So is Tomlin to see exactly what Dixon can do. Dixon is expected to be ready for training in three months.

"First and foremost, he is a quarterback, but we are excited about some of the potential things that he can do in packages and so forth," Tomlin said.

Director of football operations Kevin Colbert said Dixon reminds him of Tennessee quarterback Vince Young, the former Texas star.

"The more you watched him, the more you were impressed," Colbert said.

The Steelers drafted the offensive player of the year in two top conferences in Dixon (Pac-10) and Mendenhall (Big Ten).

Dixon threw for 5,129 yards, 38 touchdowns and 21 interceptions during his Oregon career, completing 444 of 695 passes. He threw for 20 touchdowns and had only four interceptions last season before partly tearing the ligament during a 35-23 victory against Arizona State. He tore it completely a week later after deciding to play against Arizona.

"I just want to be like a sponge and soak everything in," Dixon said. "Big Ben Roethlisberger is a great quarterback and I want to learn the ins and outs of playing the quarterback position as well."

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