It seems that for much of the early going, the Pittsburgh Steelers depth chart at quarterback during training camp will be skewed toward the bottom. And according to a variety of reports from last night’s practice, perhaps Landry Jones is finally benefitting from that extra work.
With backup quarterback Bruce Gradkowski sidelined a couple weeks on the Physically Unable to Perform List due to a shoulder injury and head coach Mike Tomlin electing to lighten Ben Roethlisberger’s workload in the early goings, Jones has been given a lot of opportunities lately to run the first-team offense.
Jones ran Roethlisberger’s first-team snaps for the Seven Shots drill to start the 11-on-11 work, and also quarterbacked all but one of those sessions, with Dale Lolley among others acknowledging that he “looked more comfortable than he has perhaps at any time in his three-year career, commanding the huddle and making all the right throws”.
The Steelers are intent on seeing some return on investment with Jones as he enters his third training camp. Up until this point in his career, he has not delivered on their hopes for him, slight as they may be, and this camp was regarded as a critical one for him.
During his first two seasons, he seemingly more or less got a pass, two redshirt seasons if you will, as he sat on the sidelines during games in street clothes, having never had to dress for a game.
For the first time in his career, Roethlisberger has started every game during a regular season in consecutive years, which has been fortunate for both Jones and the Steelers. Even Gradkowski has only played 10 snaps, and seven of those came in garbage time, only three snaps being attributable to injury.
The Steelers signed Gradkowski in 2013 to be Roethlisberger’s backup, but the hope was that Jones, also drafted that year in the fourth round, would grow into that role by the time Gradkowski’s three-year contract expired.
This is the final year of that contract, and Jones’ trial period is expiring. The Steelers were open about wanting to provide competition for him this offseason, signing Tajh Boyd to challenge him, who was teammates with Martavis Bryant in college.
Up to this point, the two competitors have seemingly been pretty even, with different strengths and weaknesses, but it has looked more like two number four quarterbacks competing for the third spot of the depth chart.
A hidden factor in all this is that with Gradkowski’s shoulder injury, that has lingered since OTAs, the Steelers can ill afford to carry only two quarterbacks on the roster this year, as many have been hoping for, so it’s important for somebody, even if it’s not Jones, to show at least a semblance of justification for holding a roster spot this year.
If this is the beginning of that journey for Landry Jones, then all the better. But this is all just one practice that he must build from. He can be expected to see an awful lot of work this preseason, so he had better be prepared to show that he belongs.