By JIM WEXELL
For The Tribune-Democrat
Ron Hughes spent 17 years at or near the top of the Detroit Lions’ organization, and he likes to joke that “They’’re going to write on my tombstone: ‘He never got us a quarterback.’ ”
Funny, because in seven years as the Steelers’ college scouting coordinator Hughes has helped put together one of the best and deepest quarterback corps in Steelers history.
Here’s the rundown:
n Ben Roethlisberger, 28, already has two rings.
n Byron Leftwich, 30, has started 50 games.
n Dennis Dixon, 25, the “prospect,” is entering his third season after nearly beating the Baltimore Ravens in the Steelers’ biggest game last season.
n Charlie Batch, 35, has also started 50 games but is the so-called “camp arm,” or fourth quarterback, because of circumstances surrounding Roethlisberger’s early-season suspension.
n Even Antwaan Randle El, 30, has been working once again as the Steelers’ “Wildcat” quarterback. One of the league’s original “Wildcats,” Randle El has completed 21 of 28 career passes for 324 yards, no interceptions, and five touchdowns, including one in Super Bowl XL.
Have the Steelers ever trotted out such a talented array of passers at one training camp?
“This is the first time I’ve seen a group this deep,” said Batch, who played with Tommy Maddox and Roethlisberger in 2004-05. “Our fourth guy was Brian St. Pierre, but he didn’t have any game experience.
“Dennis has played and played well, so it’s never been like this.”
What about back in the 1970s?
“Not that I remember,” said “Mean” Joe Greene. “I hadn’t looked at it that way, but you’re right about this group.”
“Nineteen-eighty,” said Tunch Ilkin, a veteran of 31 Steelers camps. “We had Terry Bradshaw, Mark Malone, Cliff Stoudt, and Mike Kruczek.”
Close, but no cigar. Another close comparison might’ve been the 1955 bunch with Jim Finks, Ted Marchiboda, Vic Eaton and “camp arm” John Unitas.
But then again, probably not.
“This is a unique group. It really is,” said Hughes. “The problem is finding enough reps to go around – unless you want to practice six hours.”
By the looks of the last three practices or so, each of the current quarterbacks is getting just enough practice reps.
At Monday afternoon’s workout, nary a ball hit the ground, with “the kid,” Dixon, leading the way with only one incompletion in nine attempts.
“I’m really pleased,” offensive coordinator Bruce Arians said of the group. “We’ve only had two picks and one of those was a drop. They’re protecting the football well and really doing a good job on third down.”
Here’s Arians’ camp breakdown of the quarterbacks receiving the majority of snaps:
n Roethlisberger. “Oh, man, he’s quicker, faster, stronger, and he’s throwing it as well or better than he’s ever thrown it. He’s in the best shape I’ve ever seen.”
n Leftwich. “He’s been solid. He’s been going to the right spots. Knowledge-wise, he’s as sharp as anybody we’ve got.”
n Dixon “He’s had a great camp. Knock on wood, because interceptions plagued him all spring. He’s been really good with the football – really good.”
Arians said he’s never seen a group this talented in his
18 NFL seasons.
“Never,” he said. “You’re always looking for a (No.) 3, so of course I’ve never seen four this good.”