The Pittsburgh Steelers traded quarterback Joshua Dobbs to the Jacksonville Jaguars on Monday and on Tuesday they signed back quarterback Devlin Hodges to their practice squad. Unless things change between now and Saturday evening, the team will only have two quarterbacks on their 53-man roster when they host the Seattle Seahawks at Heinz Field on Sunday. While that might not seem like too big of deal when it comes to NFL roster construction around the league, it’s quite an uncommon occurrence when it comes to the Steelers and especially ever since head coach Mike Tomlin arrived in Pittsburgh in 2007.
Dating back to 2007 and according to my records, only once have the Steelers had a 53-man roster on a gameday that didn’t include at least three quarterbacks being on it. That one instance happened in Week 2 of the 2010 regular season. At that time quarterback Ben Roethlisberger started the season on the team’s Reserve/Suspended list and thus the three quarterbacks on the initial 53-man roster were Charlie Batch, Dennis Dixon and Byron Leftwich.
Dixon opened the 2010 regular season as the Steelers starting quarterback and Batch was the backup. Ahead of that Week 2 game against the Tennessee Titans, however, Leftwich was dealing with a sprained MCL and thus slated to be inactive for that Sunday game. The Steelers also needed to promote nose tackle Steve McLendon from their practice squad that Saturday before the Sunday game due to starting nose tackle Casey Hampton being ruled out for the Week 2 game against the Titans with a hamstring injury. The decision was made to cut Leftwich on Saturday so that McLendon could have his spot on the 53-man roster and thus the Steelers only had two quarterbacks on their 53-man roster for their game against the Titans.
Dixon, by the way, injured his knee in that Week 2 game against the Titans so Batch had to relieve him. Leftwich was quickly re-signed to the 53-man roster early the following week and when Roethlisberger returned from his four-game suspension, Dixon was placed on the team’s Reserve/Injured list.
Prior to Tomlin arriving in 2007, the Steelers did have a game during the 2005 regular season that requited them to do a weekend turnaround at the quarterback position and thus they only had two on their 53-man roster for a gameday. After making the Steelers initial 53-man roster in 2005, Batch was released on the Saturday before the team’s Week 1 game against the Titans so that linebacker Andre Frazier could be signed off the practice squad due to two other linebackers dealing with injuries. A few days after the game against the Titans, Batch was re-signed to the 53-man roster.
With those two one-game instances accounted for where the Steelers only two quarterbacks on their 53-man roster had, in 2004 the Steelers had a few games where they only had two quarterbacks they could dress for a game.
The Steelers opened the 2004 regular season with Tommy Maddox and Roethlisberger as the only two quarterbacks on their 53-man roster and Brian St. Pierre on their practice squad as the team needed his roster spot when they claimed wide receiver Sean Morey off waivers. Batch, by the way, had been placed on Reserve/Injured several weeks earlier. It’s also worth pointing out that the Steelers had wide receiver Antwaan Randle El on their 53-man roster at the time and he was a former college quarterback.
While St. Pierre was back on the Steelers 53-man roster for the Steelers Week 2 game against the Baltimore Ravens, he was the inactive emergency third quarterback for that contest. That was also the game that Maddox injured his elbow in, and he was replaced by then-rookie Roethlisberger. The following week, Maddox was inactive, and Pierre backed up Roethlisberger. At that same time, Mike Quinn was signed to the Steelers practice squad so the team would have three healthy quarterbacks.
The Steelers carried three quarterbacks on their 53-man roster through Week 9 of the 2004 regular season before finally decoding to waive St. Pierre again so that running back Dante Brown could be signed off the practice squad due to injuries at the position. Maddox was back healthy again and as previously pointed out, Randle El was the emergency quarterback if needed. St. Pierre was signed back to the Steelers 53-man roster in Week 17 to be Maddox’s backup for the regular season finale so that Roethlisberger could rest up for the playoffs.
From 2000, the first year that Kevin Colbert was with the team, until 2004, I don’t recall the Steelers ever having less than three quarterbacks on their 53-man roster for a game. Colbert has also subscribed to the three-quarterback principle since he was hired except for the unique instances recapped above.
The NFL did away with the inactive emergency quarterback rule several years and since then there have been very few instances where the team hasn’t had one of their three quarterbacks inactive for a game. Because of that, several have wondered why the Steelers don’t just carry two quarterbacks on their 53-man roster and have one other one on their practice squad like they do currently with Hodges.
Barring any injuries to Roethlisberger or backup quarterback Mason Rudolph moving forward, the Steelers might decide to stick with just the two on their 53-man roster moving forward into the regular season. After all, Hodges isn’t in demand right now despite him playing well in the preseason, so it doesn’t seem the Steelers run much of a risk of having him signed off their practice squad.
It will be interesting to see if what ultimately happens this season brings changes to future initial 53-man roster construction for the Steelers. Will carrying just two quarterbacks on their 53-man roster become the new norm for them? We’ll see.