The Optimist’s Take: Landry Jones As Backup QB

The Pittsburgh Steelers have, by and large, been on an upward swing over the course of the past two and a half seasons after they missed the playoffs for two straight seasons, and failed to win a postseason game in four straight years.

Last season saw them gain that elusive playoff victory, though they came up short with about three minutes left in the Divisional round a week later. Their offense took off, and their defense improved, showing playmaking ability and opportunism.

But there are still a lot of unanswered questions facing the team as we crack into free agency territory. As an exercise, we like to take a stab at some of those questions, presenting arguments for the pros and cons of each side of the coin. This is the optimist’s take on the following question.

Question: Is the Steelers’ backup quarterback currently on the roster? Namely, is that Landry Jones?

The Pittsburgh Steelers had been trying for three offseasons to mold 2013 fourth-round draft pick Landry Jones into a legitimate backup quarterback option to serve behind Ben Roethlisberger, but it was clear that they were still unsure of their answer by the time the 2015 regular season came along.

Recent comments, as recent as in the past couple of days, have also suggested that they are not fully settled on riding into the future with Jones as the backup quarterback. But it seems more likely than not that he will serve in that role, at least for the 2016 season, which is the final year of his rookie contract.

Jones spent the first two seasons of his career as a game-day inactive, being the number three quarterback on the depth chart, and with Roethlisberger miraculously remaining healthy. But when Bruce Gradkowski went down during the preseason and was lost for the year, the Steelers weren’t ready to see him in a game, and instead signed Mike Vick to serve as Roethlisberger’s backup.

As it so happened, 2015 would prove to be a year that the Steelers would need backup play more than just about ever in Roethlisberger’s career, as he missed four full games and five starts. Vick proved to be a failure by and large in that capacity, but Jones actually got a chance to come in and play well. He came off the bench in three different games, helping to win two of them.

In his first NFL regular season action ever, he came in during the third quarter to replace an injured Vick with the Steelers losing, and proceeded to throw two touchdowns passes in the fourth quarter—admittedly with the help of his wide receivers.

That performance helped open the team’s eyes, even if he came down to earth the following week in a start against the Chiefs, during which he threw two interceptions. He played well again in a relief appearance in Oakland, but struggled again in relief two weeks later in Seattle.

Still, Roethlisberger has been among his most vocal supporters, praising his understanding of the offense, and the coaching staff has admitted that nothing in terms of the playbook is off the table when he is in the game. He acquired some quality in-game learning experiences last year that should serve him well in his capacity as the likely backup in 2016.

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