As the days continue to tick away before the Pittsburgh Steelers’ 2015 training camp opens in Latrobe at the end of the month, we continue to preview some of the major storylines to look out for as the weeks progress.
One of the more exciting aspects of training camp is always keeping an eye on the roster battles, and the Steelers appear to have a deeper 90-man roster than has been the case in recent years. As a result, there are several spots in particular at which the coaching staff figures to have a difficult decision to make when the roster cuts must be made.
When it comes to the quarterback position, the hardest decision that needs to be made may well come down to deciding when to stop cutting. Of course it’s a given that Ben Roethlisberger and Bruce Gradkowski will be making the 53-man roster, but everybody that is contending for a roster spot behind them come into training camp with no guarantees.
It is true that is has been the standard for the Steelers to carry three quarterbacks on the 53-man roster. It’s simply a personnel decision that they are not comfortable with to carry less than three, though in truth, this may at least be in part a remnant from the old rules.
Previously, teams would be forced to declare eight players inactive for each game, which would include the third-string quarterback, but he would be able to suit up and come into the game if necessary, with the stipulation that the other quarterbacks could not return if he were to play.
The roster rules were changed a few years back, reducing the number of inactive players to seven, but making no exception for the third quarterback. In light of this move, some teams that previously carried three quarterbacks decided to carry only two, because the third quarterback would be in street clothes on Sundays anyway.
Consider the case of Landry Jones, the Steelers’ fourth-round draft pick in 2013. While he has been on the roster for all 32 games over the course of the past two seasons, he has not dressed for a single game. This is actually a bit of an outlier given Roethlisberger’s unlikely string of health—he missed three games alone in the season prior to Jones being drafted.
The third-year pro, however, has yet to impress his coaches, and has been given a more than fair two-year grace period. While there has been just a touch of positivity about him during the spring, if he gets outplayed, he figures to be out of a roster spot.
The problem may come down to the fact that all of the other options are worse, spearheaded by Tajh Boyd, a sixth-round draft pick last year that failed to make a roster and was a backup in the FXFL. Boyd’s inaccurate passing displays have yet to foster much enthusiasm from observers.
The other two options available are slash options Devin Gardner and Tyler Murphy. Gardner played wide receiver before being moved to quarterback during his college career, while Murphy is attempting to make that transition now. Neither of them, certainly, have the talent to make the roster as a quarterback, however, so they must prove to be capable wide receivers as well.
There is a remote but reasonable possibility that all available options perform so poorly during the preseason that the Steelers are forced to stash their third quarterback on the practice squad rather than carry him on the 53-man roster, which would be music to the ears of many, but it seems far more likely than not that the teams sticks with their form and carries three arms.