The Pittsburgh Steelers have wrapped things up in minicamp and put an end to their spring practices, which means that we are officially into the dead zone, the slowest time of the year for football news and general activity, the time between the end of spring drills in mid-June to the opening of training camps in late July.
Before we get there, we are going to take a look at how the team’s roster has evolved since prior to the draft, the last time that we broke down the Steelers by position, and obviously a lot has changed since they have fleshed out their 90-man roster.
Total Positional Figure: 4
Ben Roethlisberger: Though approaching his mid-30s, Ben Roethlisberger is still in his prime, and the team goes, quite simply, where he goes. He had some injury issues last season that are hopefully resolved, and he has reportedly slimmed down even more than usual this year. If any facet of his game from last season needs to be improved upon, it is cutting down on his interceptions, as he had the second-worst season of his career in that respect. And in his worst season, he had the excuse of being in an accident and undergoing an appendectomy.
Landry Jones: Last year was unquestionably huge for Landry Jones, who earned himself a lot of breathing room after facing immense pressure to perform this year. Mike Tomlin joked about him being the most seasoned preseason quarterback in the league last year because of how much the team played him to understand what they have, but they didn’t really understand until he had to play in a real game. And there’s something there, he showed, but how much? That is what he is looking to show this camp as he looks to hold on to the backup job
Bruce Gradkowski: If Jones fails to keep the backup job, it will be because the man who previously owned it took it back. Bruce Gradkowski was Roethlisberger’s backup in 2013 and 2014, and would have been last year had he not suffered season-ending injuries in the preseason. He was re-signed to a veteran-minimum deal just a month ago, and will have to earn back his job if he wishes to retain it.
Dustin Vaughan: A 2014 undrafted free agent who made the Cowboys’ 53-man roster that year, but not the next when they carried only two quarterbacks, Vaughan signed a Reserve/Future contract after the season with Pittsburgh and looks to make another roster. He will have to unseat one of the two above in order to do so. Frankly, other quarterbacks in his position have a terrible track record of making the team.
Notes and Camp Outlook: As noted, Gradkowski was not re-signed until late, in mid-May, possibly because he was still recovering, or perhaps just because the Steelers were in no hurry. They were rumored to have had interest in Brian Hoyer when he was released, but likely balked at his $2 million price tag.
Though Jones is now the incumbent backup, he and Gradkowski will surely fight for the role during training camp and the preseason, during which the snaps will likely be much more evenly distributed than they were last year. Of course, the team is likely pulling for the younger player to prove himself. Jones is scheduled to hit free agency next year, though, so perhaps they don’t want him to show too much.