As the calendar continues to push forward, we hasten upon the end of July, where looms the beginning of training camp, the necessary respite for all football fans who have been the past six weeks wondering what to do with themselves—as least as far as the game goes.
With the start of training camp also comes the start of meaningful competition, and I’m not just talking about players getting to put on pads and smash into each other. There are battles to be won. Position battles, roster battles. Battles for starting jobs.
Before we get too deep into the swing of training camp, here is a quick series that provides a preview of some of the most significant battles that will have to be determined over the course of training camp and the preseason, though the regular season can always decide to change the results.
I believe that one of the battles that is most likely to be competitive, or at least interesting to watch, is the battle over the backup quarterback position between fourth-year quarterback Landry Jones and veteran Bruce Gradkowski.
Though Jones is technically the incumbent at the position, that distinction comes with the caveat that it necessitated Gradkowski suffering season-ending injuries that required surgery in training camp—and two further injuries to the starter and his eventual new backup—before he got any playing time.
It remains a question whether or not Jones would have retained his backup position last season after his initial appearance had Gradkowski still been on the roster at the time and was able to recover from the injury that resulted in the third quarterback on the depth chart getting into a game.
Whether or not that would have been the case, however, Jones is indeed the incumbent, and he is coming off the first playing time of his career. He was forced to come in cold against a top team in the Cardinals in a second half in which the offense was not doing anything and the Steelers were losing and he managed to lead two touchdown drives with passes to Martavis Bryant for a comeback victory.
He fared less well the following week in his first career start, throwing two interceptions and losing a late fumble on a sack that effectively ended the game against what was at the time a bad Chiefs team that failed to lose another regular season game after that.
The rest of his playing time was almost more failure than success. He eventually led a game-winning field goal drive at the end of the Raiders game, but threw two interceptions against the Seahawks, one on a fake punt, and he threw a critical interception in the playoffs.
As for Gradkowski, however, he has hardly had to play in his first two season as the backup, but last year was the season in which he was needed. He is 35 now and coming off a shoulder injury, now as the challenger rather than the incumbent.
Both quarterbacks should be given plenty of opportunities during the regular season to work with the first- or second-team offense in order to work out the depth chart, though I believe the team is likely to tip the scale a bit in the younger Jones’ favor as they hope he can develop into a trusted backup heading into a contract year.