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 pessimist’s take on the following question.
Question: Is the Steelers’ backup quarterback currently on the roster? Namely, is that Landry Jones?
When the Pittsburgh Steelers drafted Landry Jones in the fourth round of the 2013 NFL Draft, they knew that they were selecting a quarterback who would require some development time before he could be counted upon to serve as the team’s backup, which is why they also went out and signed veteran Bruce Gradkowski to serve in that role.
But they drafted him in the hopes that he would over time overtake Gradkowski in the role of backup quarterback, perhaps as early as year two. The problem was that he almost seemed to regress even further in his second preseason in comparison to his rookie playing time, despite being given a greater opportunity.
It was a great fortune for the Steelers that they only required three snaps to be played by backup quarterbacks due to injury throughout the entirety of the 2013 and 2014 seasons, but they still headed into 2015 with Jones in a bit of a limbo.
Which is precisely why they hurled just about every snap that they could find at him during the preseason—as preseason in which, mind you, they had five games to play rather than four due to their participation in the Hall of Fame game—and were not able to return a satisfactory answer.
After Gradkowski went down with an injury, the Steelers went out and signed Mike Vick, entrusting him to serve as the backup despite evidently insufficient time to grasp the team’s entire playbook, given that he was a late preseason signing.
Jones only ever got onto the field due to injury, and admittedly, he had strong showings in two relief appearances against the Cardinals, especially, leading the Steelers to a two-touchdown fourth-quarter come-from-behind victory, and later against the Raiders producing a game-winning field goal drive, if my memory is correct.
On the other hand, his play in his one full start against the Chiefs left much to be desired, throwing two interceptions and losing a fumble on a game-clinching late sack. He also struggled in relief in Seattle, throwing two interceptions, one of which came on an ill-advised fake punt gadget play.
During his relief appearance during the Wildcard round, he disappointed yet again, which included a one-play, one-interception drive that seemed to seal the game. There is no doubt that Jones did make strides last year, and that his playing experience in meaningful games will be an asset to him. But you can’t force a backup role onto somebody if he just doesn’t measure up.
Frankly, it feels as though the Steelers are still looking for the answer as to what exactly Jones can be, which is not a good thing heading into the final season of his rookie contract.