Roethlisberger out as captain, Dixon in at QB

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PITTSBURGH (AP) — Ben Roethlisberger is no longer a Pittsburgh Steelers captain. Dennis Dixon is the new Steelers quarterback, at least for the time being.

Roethlisberger, suspended by the NFL for the first four games of the season, was not chosen a Steelers captain in a vote by his teammates. He has been selected the previous two seasons. Wide receiver Hines Ward and tight end Heath Miller will be the offensive captains.

In a different vote regarding the quarterbacks, Dixon got the one that counted — by coach Mike Tomlin. Dixon was selected over longtime backup Charlie Batch to start Sunday’s opener against Atlanta, although he has started only one NFL game.

Dixon is an excellent runner and has a good throwing arm, but Batch is much more experienced and has an intimate knowledge of the playbook.

“It’s an honor, obviously. The ultimate for a quarterback is to be the starter,” Dixon said Monday. “It’s every quarterback’s dream to be a starter in the National Football League. My number is called now, and I’m going to have fun with it. I’m happy, but there’s a lot of work to be done.”

Byron Leftwich, reacquired by Pittsburgh during an April trade, was expected to start while Roethlisberger was out, but sprained his left medial collateral ligament Thursday against Carolina. Dixon, a third-year player from Oregon, threw for a touchdown and ran for another during an overtime loss in Baltimore last season when Roethlisberger was out with a concussion.

“Dennis has had a very productive preseason and training camp,” Tomlin said. “He went into the training camp as a young guy, second in the pecking order behind Byron Leftwich. He did a nice job and made it extremely competitive. He waged a battle and got some first-team reps in some preseason games. Largely, we’ve been very impressed with how he’s handled himself in game situations.”

Dixon got much of the work with the starters Aug. 29 in Denver, hurting his chances of beating out Leftwich by throwing two interceptions during a 34-17 loss.

Batch has played with Pittsburgh since 2002, but has thrown only two passes since 2007 while getting injured each of the last two seasons. He was the No. 4 QB during training camp, and his lack of time with the starters during camp and in the exhibition games hurt his chances of starting.

“There was a specific pecking order in camp, and Charlie’s durability or lack of durability added into it,” Tomlin said. “This is a guy who’s been on IR (injured reserve) a little bit the past couple years, but he also requires very few snaps to be prepared to play football at an acceptable level.”

Ward, a Steelers captain for the sixth time, wouldn’t say if off-field issues influenced the decision to not pick Roethlisberger.

“The captain’s not just what you do on the field, it’s what you do off the field,” Ward said. “Heath lives here (at the training facility), he’s constantly here during coaching sessions and offseason workouts. It’s well deserved.”

Roethlisberger missed part of the team’s offseason workouts following allegations he sexually assaulted a Georgia college student in March, although he wasn’t charged.

Roethlisberger initially was suspended by the NFL for six games, but Commissioner Roger Goodell reduced that to four games on Thursday because the quarterback has stayed out of trouble and kept to a program mandated by the league.

Until his suspension ends after the Steelers’ Oct. 3 game against Baltimore, Roethlisberger cannot attend practice or visit the Steelers’ offices and is not permitted to talk to coaches or fellow players about team-related matters. He can’t play again until Oct. 17 against Cleveland.

Ward doesn’t think the Steelers intentionally slighted Roethlisberger by not choosing him a captain.

“Ben’s our quarterback,” Ward said. “That in itself, he’s the leader of this team.”

Linebacker James Farrior will be the lone defensive captain, the seventh time he was selected. James Harrison was not selected after being chosen last year.

The special teams captain is linebacker Keyaron Fox, succeeding kicker Jeff Reed.