A year ago, the Pittsburgh Steelers certainly seemed perfectly content to give rookie quarterback Landry Jones a redshirt season on the 53-man roster with their new veteran backup in Bruce Gradkowski being brought in.
As fortune would have it, not even Gradkowski had to take a single snap the entire season, as quarterback Ben Roethlisberger was able to stay healthy for the entire season, never coming off the field and missing a play.
As a matter of fact, the only other player to take a snap from center was running back Le’Veon Bell for a small handful of Wildcat runs, during which Roethlisberger admittedly begrudgingly would flank out wide.
Only two passes were thrown for the Steelers by players other than Roethlisberger: one from Antonio Brown to Felix Jones, and another on a fake punt from Mat McBriar to David Paulson.
Obviously, the Steelers are going into the 2014 season with the plan once again of having Roethlisberger be the only quarterback to take the field, but as we all know, that tends not to be the norm in his 10-year career.
What they almost seem to be determining is who should come onto the field if Roethlisberger comes off.
Perhaps I shouldn’t go quite that far. There certainly isn’t enough evidence just yet to suggest that Jones is in a legitimate competition with Gradkowski for the backup quarterback position. But the team certainly seems intent on getting as many quality looks as possible at their second-year signal caller.
The coaching staff has frequently been giving Jones the second-team reps with the offense throughout the offseason. It began back in OTAs, and is continuing to be the case during training camp. He took a significant amount of second-team reps yesterday.
Of course, Jones would need many more reps than a veteran like Gradkowski. One of the appealing qualities of veteran backup quarterbacks is their ability to come off the bench or start a game without requiring much warm up and knowing how to run the offense in different situations, such as the hurry up.
It’s reasonable to assume that the Steelers are going to try to get a long, hard look at Jones during the preseason this year to see how far he’s come. He may take most of the snaps with the second-team offense, and will probably start the fourth preseason game.
He may not be given a serious opportunity to win the backup job over Gradkowski, short of lighting up the preseason (then again, he might). But the organization would certainly like to get a much needed status update on their investment.
If his development isn’t on a satisfactory pace, it’s certainly possible that the team could be back in the draft market for another quarterback prospect next year, for example.
Jones has had his ups and downs so far during training camp, an ebb and flow that could go from one play to the next. For a few plays in a row, he may show strong pocket presence and hit his throws, and on the next hold on to the ball too long for a sack, followed up by an interception.
But he’s still a young player that is learning his craft, which commands a little patience—at the team’s discretion. By this time next year, he could either be Roethlisberger’s backup or looking for a job.