Little real news comes out of Steelers OTA’s. We’ve heard alternatively about 2nd round corner Senquez Golson’s solid play and growing pains. We’ve heard Martavis Bryant continues to work well. Ben Roethlisberger has sung the praises of the men around him. James Harrison’s vowing to play past his 25 snap limit.
- All good news indeed, but much of it has a “yah-da-ya-dah-yah-da” quality to it.
In route to Super Bowl XL, Ben Roethlisberger claimed he was “the supporting cast.” Rookies not named Huey Richardson are supposed to spawn stories documenting both their talents and the trails they face in adjusting to the NFL. Such stories are standard OTA fare. But there has been one real piece of news to come out of Steelers 2015 OTA’s.
- The third string quarterback Landry Jones’ Steelers future is in doubt as his roster spot is under siege
When the Steelers signed Tajh Boyd the conventional wisdom was assume that Boyd was in Pittsburgh to challenge Jones. Not so fast, said Steelers beat writer Steel City Insider’s Jim Wexell, the third string job was Landry Jones to lose. Word out of OTA’s is that the Steelers are going to give Landry Jones every chance to do just that.
The Steelers 2015 draft class didn’t include a cornerback, (not even a 5th rounder), but in addition to signing Tajh Boyd, the Steelers signed Devin Gardner and Tyler Murphy, both former NCAA quarterbacks. Now the Steelers signed Gardner and Murphy as wide receivers in the mold of Hines Ward and Antwaan Randle El, but…
Chris Adamski of the Pittsburgh Tribune Review reported that Tyler Murphy spent Steelers rookie camp attending both quarterback and wide receiver meetings….
Dale Lolley reported that during Steelers OTA’s with Bruce Gradkowski injured, Boyd and Devin Gardner, in addition to Landry Jones, got snaps at quarterback. The good news for Jones is that neither Boyd, nor Gardner, nor Murphy is playing particularly well. However, both Lolley and Wexell have described Roethlisbergerless and Gradkowskiless drills as providing the defensive backs with “interception practice.”
In other words, Landry Jones hasn’t really separated himself from the men challenging him, and that is not good for a 4th round pick entering his third summer.
Steelers Uncharacteristically Candid about Landry Jones Future
What’s more, the Steelers aren’t pulling many punches when it comes to Landry Jones. Prior to the draft Steelers General Manager Kevin Colbert mouthed the obligatory words about Landry Jones improving and perhaps progressing to the point where he could challenge Gradkowski for the starting role.
However, when asked about Jones additional playing time, Steelers offensive coordinator Todd Haley assessment was stark “He’s been a little up and down. That’s a tough spot to be in, being the third guy.”
Steelers quarterback coach Randy Fichtner was slightly more upbeat but hardly optimistic when queried about Jones. Fichtner conceded that Landry Jones transition to the NFL had taken longer than expected. In assessing Landry Jones potential for this summer at St. Vincents, Fichtner opined, “He knows he’s at a time when it’s probably make-or-break time for him. Eventually, if there isn’t a potential move forward, the younger guys will have to get some work.”
When the Steelers drafted Landry Jones in the 4th round of the 2013 NFL Draft to move generated its share of controversy. Some immediately suggested the team was looking to Landry as Roethlisberger’s replacement, while others lambasted the decision as a waste of a fourth round pick.
- During the Steelers winless 2013 preseason, Jones looked a lot more like a wasted pick than a Roethlisberger replacement.
Some speculation on the internet suggested that the Steelers might reach out to bring Charlie Batch out of retirement for one final season. For all the talk of Jones improvement in his season summer at St. Vincents, a cursory look at the preseason passing statistics shows that Brian St. Pierre posted better numbers in his second preseason than Landry Jones did.
The Pittsburgh Steelers philosophy regarding quarterback depth has always been to carry three signal callers on the opening day roster. In fact, you’d have to go back to 1989 to find a time when the Steelers started a season with only two quarterbacks on the roster (Bubby Brister as the starter, with Todd Blackledge as his backup, with Rick Strom on the practice squad, for those of you taking notes.)
- Increasingly, NFL teams are shying away from using a roster spot on the third QB slot, preferring to staff it via the practice squad.
The Steelers, however, have stuck to their guns, and their early success in the 2010 season shows why. But the Steelers philosophy isn’t to keep 3 quarterbacks for the sake of keeping three, but rather to have an established starter, backed up by an experienced veteran, followed by promising rookie.
- For two seasons now, Landry Jones has held down the “promising rookie slot” more on pedigree and potential as opposed to performance.
Those days are over, and when asked about the importance of the challenge facing him, Jones confessed, “This is an important year for me and my career. It’s also important for my future on this team. I need to go out there and prove I’m capable of making plays.”
Not only is Landry Jones Steelers future in doubt, Jones is fighting for his NFL life. Fortunately for him, he knows it.