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Rookie quarterbacks usually fit right into Steelers' plans

Thursday, November 26, 1998

By Ed Bouchette, Post-Gazette Sports Writer

PONTIAC, Mich. - The Steelers devour rookie quarterbacks like drumsticks on Thanksgiving Day. Sometimes, they leave the bones.

Got that, Charlie Batch?

"Charlie's got a little mind game on Thursday," safety Lee Flowers said. "When he comes out, he's reading our defense. We're showing him one thing and five seconds before the ball is snapped, we'll show him something else. That's very confusing for a young quarterback, for any quarterback for that matter. That's our game plan."

Said linebacker Levon Kirkland, "We want to try to disguise the defense, show him different looks and then get out of those looks. Maybe he'll make a mistake and throw a pick or something."

A pick is short for interception and the general perception is that the mean and talented Steelers defense, with all its zone blitzing and sleight of hand, scares the bejabbers out of rookie quarterbacks into throwing dozens of them, just to get out of the way of the pass rush.

But sometimes perception and reality do not mesh. In theory, a defense that confused the great Brett Favre should leave a rookie like the Detroit Lions' Batch dazed by mid-afternoon today. And maybe it will, maybe Batch will have so much trouble following today's 12:30 p.m. kickoff in the Pontiac Silverdome that the Steelers will easily ride off with an 8-4 record and send the Lions spinning to 4-8.

Or, maybe Batch will perform the way Bobby Hoying and Jake Plummer did against the Steelers last season. They, too, were young quarterbacks who were to be picked silly by the hungry Steelers defense, but it went the other way.

Hoying, then in his second season, threw for 246 yards, two touchdowns and no interceptions to lead the Philadelphia Eagles to a 23-20 upset on Nov. 23. The following week in Arizona, the rookie Plummer nearly led Arizona to another upset. Plummer threw for 270 yards, two touchdowns and no interceptions and the Cardinals would have won except Joe Nedney missed a 46-yard field goal at the end of regulation.

So much for the myth that the Steelers own young quarterbacks. Batch is certainly that. The Homestead native turns 24 on Dec. 5. But he does not act like a young quarterback.

"He seems to be really poised," Kirkland said, "a guy who's been through a lot during college ball. I think that makes him more mature than other guys his age. He doesn't rattle easy. I think the guy can be a great quarterback."

Batch also has something no other quarterback in the league, young or old, has - Barry Sanders.

"When you have Barry in the backfield," Batch said, "it makes it a lot easier because the defense has to do one or two things - they're either going to pack the run and make you beat them with the pass, or they sit back and let Barry beat them."

Let's see, Barry Sanders or Charlie Batch? Gear up to stop the future Hall of Famer or the rookie second-round pick from Eastern Michigan?

"You figure it out," Batch said. "They're going to eventually try to stop Barry and make us beat them with the pass."

Said Steelers defensive coordinator Jim Haslett, "You have to worry about stopping the running game more than how much you'll pressure the quarterback."

But leave it to Flowers, the Steelers' outspoken free safety, to say what his teammates will not - that they will have Batch bewildered today.

"Our game plan doesn't change for anybody. We're just gong to go out and blitz him and confuse him a little bit. Same thing we've been doing. That's Steelers football."

NOTES - The Steelers cut linebacker Steve Conley for the third time this season to make room on the roster for rookie fullback Carlos King, who had been on their practice squad. They need King because starter Tim Lester is out with a sprained ankle, which left Jon Witman as the only fullback . . . CB Dewayne Washington, who set a Steelers record and tied an NFL record with two interception returns for touchdowns, was named AFC defensive player of the week .

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