The Pittsburgh Steelers find themselves in an interesting position when it comes to the near future regarding their quarterback depth chart.
Of course, Ben Roethlisberger will be heading that list for at least another five seasons, one hopes, following the new contract that he signed this offseason, which will carrying him through his year 38 season.
But behind him? Much less is certain.
Two years ago, after the Steeler decided to clean house in the quarterback meeting room, they signed veteran reserve Bruce Gradkowski to serve as Roethlisberger’s primary backup, adding Landry Jones in the fourth round of the draft that same offseason.
Gradkowski has mercifully only played three meaningful snaps since then, coming in late in the team’s playoff loss. At 32 years old since January, the veteran has one year remaining on his three-year contract, and I’m sure the Steelers were hoping by now that Jones would have emerged as the primary backup by his third season.
But that appears unlikely, and, in fact, it seems more likely that he is at the risk of losing his roster spot altogether, if the recently signed Tajh Boyd has shown the necessary growth from last season to give him a real challenge.
Boyd, the former college teammate of Steelers second-year wide receiver Martavis Bryant, was a three-year starter at Clemson and owns the ACC record for the most passing yardage in a college career.
He proved to be a very solid college quarterback, throwing for 107 touchdowns to 39 interceptions, while also finding a great deal of success using his legs to gain yardage and to score on his own.
But where his game was significantly lacking—other than the accuracy necessary to throw into the narrower ‘open’ windows of the NFL—was Boyd’s ability to latch on to a more complex offensive system, which is largely why he failed to make the 53-man roster for the New York Jets last season after they selected him in the sixth round.
Ed Bouchette wrote recently that Boyd was “admittedly was in over his head because he could not grasp the terminology and the system”, which is not surprising when considering the type of offensive system that Clemson, and many other college schools, run, which does not always translate well to a professional system.
But Boyd has had a lot of time to digest his failure to make an NFL team during his rookie season, including spending time in the Fall Experimental Football League. Bouchette writes that Gradkowski has helped to take Boyd under his wing over the course of the past few weeks, which has helped drive home one simple message.
“Talking to Bruce and learning from him, the way he understands the game—you wonder why a guy plays for 10, 12 seasons, it’s because they understand the game, they understand where everybody has to be. I have to become more of a student of the game.”
Boyd already has NFL arm strength, which would be fitting for some of the offensive pieces that the Steelers have. If he can put it together mentally this offseason, he could pounce on the opportunity that exists on the depth chart.