Byron Leftwich probably won't be the quarterback who can get the Steelers into the playoffs. He doesn't want to be the quarterback who keeps them out of the postseason.
Unless there's an injury or an unforeseen development, Leftwich doesn't figure to be playing for Pittsburgh in November and December. Ben Roethlisberger will be back by then, and the Steelers aren't paying a man who's won two Super Bowls $102 million to sit.
Leftwich will be on the field in September and October, while Roethlisberger is suspended for at least four games. A good start without Roethlisberger lessens the pressure on him to perform at a peak level once he returns following a month with no practices or games. A poor start means the Steelers could be in trouble if Roethlisberger needs time to regain his game following his long layoff.
Leftwich understands he was brought back to Pittsburgh to be a short-term replacement rather than a long-term solution. All NFL quarterbacks know they're on a short leash, but this may be the first time one knew so far in advance the exact length of his tenure.
"I remember when I was the franchise quarterback," said Leftwich, a former Jacksonville first-round draft pick. "This ain't my first rodeo. It's good to be part of a team like this, a team that can win the big one. When you're on this team, you know you've got a chance to win every week."
While Roethlisberger is suspended, the Steelers play Atlanta and Baltimore at home and Tampa Bay, Leftwich's team a season ago, and Tennessee on the road. Ideally, they'd like to go at least 3-1 while Roethlisberger is out.
After they play Cleveland at home on Oct. 17 following a bye week, their next three games are at Miami, New Orleans and Cincinnati. That's a potentially pivotal stretch, especially considering Roethlisberger will have played no more than one game.
Pressure on Byron Leftwich? No, not much.
"I'm a veteran, man," Leftwich said Wednesday. "I know how to get through a season. As a quarterback, it's hard to get through 16 straight. I know what to do. I know how to prepare myself."
The Steelers are giving Leftwich as many practice snaps as Roethlisberger during training camp, something they've not done before with another quarterback. Coach Mike Tomlin isn't saying yet how the playing time will be divided during the four exhibition games, starting Saturday against Detroit, but Leftwich figures to get as much work with the starters as Roethlisberger.
"Byron doesn't need a lot of (practice or exhibition game) reps," offensive coordinator Bruce Arians said. "He walked back in and knew the offense like he'd never missed a practice. He stayed in contact with Randy (Fichtner, the quarterbacks coach) and I last year when he was in Tampa, talking about 'How do you attack these guys? I want to put some of that in.'"
Leftwich was Roethlisberger's backup when the Steelers won the Super Bowl two years ago, but threw only 36 passes in five games a year after throwing 58 in three games with Atlanta. Last season, he was 58 of 107 for 594 yards, four touchdowns and three interceptions in three games before getting benched in Tampa Bay.
The Steelers' biggest concern probably is Leftwich's lack of mobility; their offensive line has allowed 195 sacks since 2006, the third most in the league, and that was mostly with the mobile Roethlisberger playing.
Another possible concern: Leftwich, 30, hasn't played as many as four consecutive games since starting the first six for Jacksonville in 2006. Still, unless he gets hurt or badly underperforms, the Steelers probably won't go to former Oregon star Dennis Dixon, who has started only one NFL game.
"Byron brings a great enthusiasm to the game," Arians said. "He has some limitations, but he's won a lot of ballgames in this league. I have all the confidence in the world in him."