Realizing the need to “freshen up” the quarterback room a few years back, in the words of Coach Randy Fichtner following the drafting of Landry Jones in 2013, the Pittsburgh Steelers allowed the contracts of their backup quarterbacks to expire and replaced their roster spots with the aforementioned rookie Jones, as well as the veteran and Pittsburgh native Bruce Gradkowski, with the goal in mind that he would bridge the gap until the former was ready to be the team’s backup.
That never happened in Jones’ first two seasons, but it did by necessity last year when Gradkowski suffered multiple injuries that required surgery and a trip to the injured reserve list. After Ben Roethlisberger and Mike Vick both got hurt, the Steelers had no choice but to play him.
Now with Gradkowski re-signed, the question is whether or not Jones is now the backup, or if Gradkowski will resume his place that he only vacated because he was injured and missed the entire season, only for the team to go out and replace him with Vick and install him as Roethlisberger’s backup.
Kevin Gorman notes in an article that he wrote for the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review that there was interest from other teams before the Steelers re-signed Gradkowski to a one-year deal on May 2, an interesting fact that I have not seen previously reported, although that ‘interest’ in practice may not have amounted to much at all. He was, after all, still available in May.
It is worth noting, for the time being, that Jones has by reports thus far served as the team’s backup quarterback during the Steelers’ OTAs this month. He has been the second quarterback in, for example, while exercising the Seven Shots drill, and he led the offense last week when Roethlisberger was out in order to attend the birth of his third child.
The fact that Jones is being given the work now, of course, does not necessarily mean much of anything. The Steelers gave him what certainly feels like the most snaps that a quarterback has ever been given over the course of a preseason last year, and they did so in order to determine whether or not he had a long-term future. And in spite of that work, they were still not comfortable entering the season as the backup.
Perhaps the Steelers do now view him as the backup, and he will work primarily in that capacity until circumstances dictate otherwise. Perhaps the team is just being diligent with Gradkowski given that he suffered an injured shoulder last year. Perhaps they simply don’t think he can benefit much from these sorts of offseason workouts, which would be more useful for a young player such as Jones.
Whatever the case might be, there is certainly plenty of time for the backup quarterback situation to draw to a competent resolution, and surely, by then, it will be of little relevance who was taking snaps when back in May and June. Still, as always, the goal is for the backup quarterback to never play except in a blowout, and in that respect, Gradkowski was the ideal backup in 2013-4.