The Pittsburgh Steelers used a fourth-round draft pick on quarterback Landry Jones in the 2013 NFL draft, hoping that he would in time develop to a level sufficient enough that they feel they can entrust him with the responsibilities of being the backup quarterback for Ben Roethlisberger.
That has yet to materialize in three seasons thus far, but, as of right now, he is, for the first time in his career, the backup—only not to Roethlisberger, who went down with a potentially serious knee injury, but to Michael Vick, who was already the franchise’s second option to serve as Roethlisberger’s backup.
Jones has been on the Steelers’ regular season 53-man roster now for 35 games, and he was never active in one of them, meaning that he has never even had the option to take the field whether there was an emergency situation at quarterback or not.
But when the Steelers return to Pittsburgh to face the Ravens on Thursday night, Jones will be getting a helmet for the first time in his career, as Roethlisberger will be missing time, inactive, and it will be Vick under center as they hope to find some semblance of offense after meandering through most of the second half against the Rams.
As we have learned quite well over the last two years, however, being the backup quarterback rarely means much beyond hold a clipboard. Prior to his season-ending injuries suffered during the preseason, Bruce Gradkowski spent the past two seasons as Roethlisberger’s backup and played just 10 snaps in meaningful games.
Seven of those snaps came at the tail end of a blowout victory, during which other starters were also pulled. The only three truly meaningful snaps came during the Steelers’ wildcard loss, when Roethlisberger suffered a head injury and briefly left the game. Gradkowski completed two passes starting from third and long to move the chains and nearly had a touchdown on an incompletion on his third throw.
The long and short of this is that there isn’t much reason to freak out about Jones now being one snap away from playing, at least statistically, because it is unlikely that that should be necessary. But consider the position the Steelers might be in now had they chosen to keep only two quarterbacks on the roster.
The team likely would have tried to keep Jones on the practice squad, though it would not be a guarantee that he would have cleared waivers. Assuming that he would not have, Pittsburgh may be stuck with Tyler Murphy as the backup quarterback right now. For some that might be the more favorable option, but these same people have never seen Murphy throw a pass in even a preseason game—because he didn’t throw one.
It is for situations such as these that the Steelers front office greatly prefers to keep three quarterbacks on the roster, which is why they gave Jones such extensive work during the preseason. Hopefully all of that work will have prepared him to serve as the backup, and, dare I say it, play if need be.