NEW ORLEANS - Dennis Dixon hasn't thrown a pass in an NFL game since Week 2 of the 2010 season when he started the first two games for the Pittsburgh Steelers while Ben Roethlisberger served a suspension. In fact, Dixon has just 59 pass attempts through his first four NFL seasons.
He left the Steelers last offseason hoping to find an opportunity to compete for a starting job, but found tepid interest - to put it mildly - on the free-agent market and eventually signed with the Baltimore Ravens' practice squad. He has spent the season holding a clipboard behind Joe Flacco and Tyrod Taylor, but has been thrust back into the limelight this week even though he won't be active for Super Bowl XLVII on Sunday.
With his former college head coach, Chip Kelly, taking over the Philadelphia Eagles, there is wide speculation that Dixon will be in the mix in Philadelphia next season.
Dixon told The Sports Xchange that he is "tight" with Kelly, but that the two haven't spoken since the Ravens' bye in Week 8.
Dixon is well-versed in Kelly's spread option, and the breakout seasons for mobile quarterbacks who can run the read-option such as the San Francisco 49ers' Colin Kaepernick, the Washington Redskins' Robert Griffin III and the Seattle Seahawks' Russell Wilson only adds to the speculation that Dixon will finally get the opportunity he has been seeking in Philadelphia next season.
"I'm always looking forward to the next opportunity," said Dixon, who turned 28 on Jan. 11. "I'm being patient, this league is about timing.
"I'm happy for those guys who can show their versatility and can hurt defenses with their legs. Don't take it out of context, those guys can throw."
An inconsistent arm has been exactly what has held Dixon back to this point in his career. A Heisman Trophy contender in 2007 before tearing his anterior cruciate ligament (which he injured again in 2010), Dixon has completed 59.3 percent of his career NFL pass attempts with a 71.4 rating. However, that was with a conservative Steelers' game plan when he was in the lineup to limit his exposure in the downfield passing game.
Whether he can overcome an awkward delivery and shaky mechanics to be more than a backup should he indeed land with the Eagles in the offseason is a question Dixon can attempt to answer beginning next week. For now, he's busy playing Kaepernick in practice, helping the Ravens' defense prepare for the dual-threat they'll try to contain in the Superdome on Sunday.
"I'm not tied up (in next season," he said. "I'm trying to be the best all-around Colin Kaepernick I can be so that come Sunday our defense is prepared."
--Player safety remained a hot topic in New Orleans, on the day NFLPA executive director DeMaurice Smith offered his state of the players' union and before Friday's public address from commissioner Roger Goodell.
Veteran Baltimore Ravens center Matt Birk, who is contemplating retirement, said the issue is far too intricate to be resolved with an amendment here, a rule change there.
"It's a tricky situation," said Birk, a six-time Pro Bowl selection who turns 36 in July. "As players, we expect to be safe. I think we're taken care of. ... Unfortunately, it's part of the game. Guys suffer. Whether that's during your career or after."
Birk was reminded as a rookie by the leaders in the Minnesota Vikings locker room in 1998 that players didn't always have it as good as they do now. Birk said the change became evident in 1994, but that a long battle isn't over. For that reason, Birk said he plans to donate his brain for research when he dies. He does worry occasionally about his mind in day-to-day life.
"I equate it to being an organ donor," Birk said. "This is a terrible pun, but it's a no-brainer."
--Ravens offensive coordinator Jim Caldwell has known the Harbaugh family for almost 40 years.
Jack Harbaugh, the father of Ravens head coach John Harbaugh and 49ers coach Jim, was the secondary coach at Iowa when Caldwell was recruited by and ultimately signed with the Hawkeyes. Jack Harbaugh left before Caldwell's freshman season to be an assistant coach at Michigan.
"I have known the family, know their character, for a lot of years," Caldwell told The Sports Xchange.
That made his decision to join the Ravens' coaching staff in January 2012, after he was fired as head coach of the Indianapolis Colts, an easy decision. Caldwell, who interviewed with general manager Ozzie Newsome and owner Steve Biscotti in 2008, holds no animosity toward John Harbaugh, who was hired for the position. Caldwell also said he wasn't disappointed not to get a shot at one of the NFL's head-coaching vacancies this offseason.
"I worry about things I can control," Caldwell said. "In Proverbs 16:9 it says, 'The man can plot his course, but the Lord determines his steps.' I believe that to be the case. It's just the way things are and we have to be able to make the best of it."
Jeff Reynolds contributed to this report.