The Tribune Democrat, Johnstown, PA

Sports

November 22, 2012

Steelers turn to ageless Batch

PITTSBURGH — Mike Wallace is in his fourth season with the Pittsburgh Steelers, so the wide receiver is familiar with all this talk about Charlie Batch.

Asked if it was at all concerning that the man throwing the ball to him on Sunday will soon be 38 years old, Wallace shrugged.

“He’s been old,” he said of Batch. “It’s not like he just got old. Chuck’s been old since I got here, so it’s nothing new.”

Neither is Batch making a fill-in start for his hometown Steelers (6-4), who are at Cleveland (2-8) this weekend. For the eighth time since he signed with Pittsburgh 11 years ago, Batch will be under center to begin a game for the Steelers.

No Steeler is older than Batch, whose birthday is Dec. 5. He spent the first four years of his career with Detroit, but only nose tackle Casey Hampton was with Pittsburgh before Batch arrived.

“They say Charlie built the building,” guard Willie Colon deadpanned. “That’s what I heard.”

Teammates might enjoy yukking it up when it comes to Batch’s age, but they’re happy they have him and more content than could be reasonably expected for an NFL team down to its third-string quarterback.

“I feel comfortable with Charlie,” Wallace said. “I feel like he can lead us to victory any game he plays in. Just two years ago when we played with him the first four games we were 3-1 so I’m excited about having Chuck out there.”

Batch started two of those early season games while Ben Roethlisberger served a four-game suspension and Byron Leftwich and Dennis Dixon sat out with injuries.

This season, Roethlisberger and Leftwich both have rib injuries. Leftwich relieved Roethlisberger two weeks ago in a win over Kansas City and started this past Sunday’s loss to Baltimore.

With most other teams, dropping down to the third-string QB – if they even have one – more often than not means an inexperienced rookie. With the Steelers, it means one of the most tenured quarterbacks in the NFL.

“Charlie’s a well-rounded quarterback who’s ... comfortable running the majority of our offense,” offensive coordinator Todd Haley said. “He’s a veteran savvy guy who’s an accurate thrower, short and long.”

In his most recent game, Batch completed 15 of 22 passes for 208 yards and a touchdown in a 27-0 win over St. Louis last Christmas Eve. He is 5-2 as a starter with the Steelers, and one of his losses was a meaningless outing in the 2007 season finale when Pittsburgh’s playoff seeding was wrapped up.

In recent years, Batch seemingly enters every training camp as – at best – No. 3 on the depth chart, and there are whispers his roster spot is tenuous.

Then usually every year, he starts at least one game and excels.

“These opportunities don’t come often anymore,” Batch said. “And here I am, getting up there in years. When you have this opportunity you cherish it.”

Batch, who said he had one of his better training camps, joked he’s “doing it for all the 38-year-olds.”

Some of the best quarterbacks in the game (Peyton Manning, 36, and Tom Brady, 35) are close to Batch’s age. The 37-year-old Matt Hasselbeck passed for 290 yards in beating the Steelers last month. Brett Favre was 41 when he played his final game – 40 when he had an MVP-caliber season with the Minnesota Vikings.

“Charlie is Charlie,” receiver Emmanuel Sanders said. “He’s very smart, and he takes pride in the minor details of his job.”

Wallace said Batch regularly asks more questions than anyone in the offensive meeting room, and several players refer to the quarterback as the proverbial “coach on the field.”

That prompted Haley to say, half-jokingly, “We’ve got to teach him the art of not over-coaching.”

The only other healthy quarterback on Pittsburgh’s roster is Brian Hoyer, signed Tuesday. While Haley and teammates have marveled at Hoyer’s intelligence and ability to pick up the offense quickly, the Steelers need Batch to stay healthy.

“Right now,” Batch said, “I’m that guy and there’s no telling how long I’ll have this position. It could be one week, it could be two or three. I don’t know. But either way, you just go week to week and not worry about what’s going to happen after the fact.”

With 53 career starts, 78 games and 1,534 pass attempts, Batch thinks he’s prepared for Sunday.

The only adjustment Batch said he wants to make is the timing of the play clock and interpreting Haley’s play call while in the huddle to get it out to the rest of the offense.

More than 14 years after his first NFL start, Batch this week has had the butterflies associated with being eager for game day.

“I still get excited about it because these opportunities don’t come much,” he said. “Right now, I know I have at least one other one.”

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