Pittsburgh Steelers 2015 Season Review – Learning to Win by Overcoming Adversity

When future historians pen the definitive history of the Pittsburgh Steelers, 2015 will be a turnkey season. But in which direction did the key turn? Right now Steelers Nation can only wait for its answer. But today the 2015 Steelers have given us one undeniable truth:

  • Time and time again, Mike Tomlin and his players have demonstrated the resiliency necessary to overcome adversity.

The Steelers began 2015 with mixed expectations. Pittsburgh had closed 2014 unexpectedly strong by going 4-0 with the defense leading the way. Then 2015 began with a home playoff loss to the division rival Baltimore Ravens. Worse yet, the ease with which the Ravens beat the Steelers seemingly exposed Pittsburgh as a pretender rather than a true contenders:

  • Le’Veon Bell’s absence rendered the Steelers offense rudderless
  • The offensive line failed to protect Ben Roethlisberger
  • Pittsburgh’s pass rush couldn’t pressure the passer
  • Joe Flacco victimized the Steelers secondary

With on these underlying flaws laid bare, most pundits predicted Pittsburgh would take a step back in 2015. And the 2014 Steelers were AFC North Champions a year ago, their 2015 successors had to sneak into the playoffs.

No one can argue with those contrasting facts, but do they prove the pundits right?

2015 Adversity of the “Unknown Unknowns” Smacks the Steelers

All NFL teams plan for “what might go wrong.” Sometimes a team projects and plans accordingly, other times they project but take calculated risks and then there are the “Unknown Unknowns.” What’s an “Unknown, unknown?” in the NFL?

Unexpected adversity smacked the 2015 Steelers in the face early and often. Considered numerically, the numbers are daunting:

  • 46 starter games were lost to injury on offense
  • 6 more offensive starter games were lost to suspensions
  • 1/3 of the Steelers games, including the playoffs, saw a quarterback enter the game because of injury
  • 20 minutes 46 seconds – that’s the total time that Ben Roethlisberger, Antonio Brown, Martavis Bryant, and Le’Veon Bell played together
  • 40% of the Steelers starting offensive line finished the season in injured reserve

Those numbers paint a pretty grim picture. Fortunately saber metrics, DOVA numbers and fantasy football stats don’t win football games. Winning comes from somewhere else.

2015 Steelers Learn a Potentially Important Lesson

One of the underlying ironies of the Steelers 2015 season is that while you can quantify the adversity this team weathered, quantifying how the Steelers overcame is near impossible.

Oh yes, numbers abound. Keith Butler’s defense vastly improve Pittsburgh’s takeaway total, and you can even pinpoint no less than 7 times that opponents entered the Red Zone only to have the Steelers take it away.

  • But can you really measure taking the ball away in the Red Zone with a numerical value?

You can talk about how vs. the Chargers, Michael Vick hit a 71 yard touchdown strike to Markus Wheaton, and then followed it with another drive that saw him convert 3 third downs with passes to Darrius Heyward-Bey and Heath Miller while converting another with a 24 yard scramble.

  • But can is act of an aging superstar digging down to find “IT” one last time quantifiable in anyway?

You can discuss how Martavis Bryant took a Landry Jones check down pass simply intended to burn off clock time and transformed it into an 88 yard touchdown win sealing run against the Cardinals, or how Antonio Brown took a similar pass 57 yards in OT vs. Oakland set up the game winning field goal.

  • But do stat lines “88 yards, TD” and “57 yards, TD” really convey the value of these plays?

You can remind someone of how Ryan Shazier sealed victory over the Broncos with an interception or how he stripped the ball away when all looked loss in Cincinnati.

  • But how do you calculate the statistical value of the uncanny ability to force late game turnovers that defines all true great defenders?

While all of these facts and figures should impress, they’re insignificant when measured against the process that each of the represents – learning how to win games.

Make no mistake about it. More is involved in winning football games then throwing more accurately, running a little faster or, Jack Lambert please forgive me, hitting harder than your opponents. Teams learn “how to win” just as they learn “how to lose.”

  • The final minutes of the Steelers playoff win over the Bengals put on a clinic of one team going through the exercise of learning to win while the other demonstrated the opposite lesson.

On paper, by failing to win the AFC North crown, the 2015 Steelers might have taken a step back. But if, IF they can internalize the lessons learned above, any future 2015 Steelers season review will reveal that made immeasurable progress this season.

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Roosevelt Nix Season Ends, Steelers Place Undrafted Rookie Free Agent on IR

As Steelers Nation waits with baited breath to see if both Mike Tomlin can prevent another Steelers let down on the road vs. Cleveland and Rex Ryan can pull a rabbit out of his hat, one man’s season is already over at the South Side.

The Steelers announced that undrafted rookie free agent Roosevelt Nix season ends as they place the fullback on injured reserve after injuring a metatarsal in the Steelers horrendous 20-17 loss to Baltimore.

Even taking that into consideration, the Steelers decision to keep Roosevelt Nix tested the patience of many of the faithful in Steelers Nation. In Will Johnson the Steelers already had one fullback, carrying two seemed like an extravagance in a league where entire concept of a fullback is rapidly becoming extinct.

  • But Mike Tomlin saw something he liked in Roosevelt Nix, and kept him on the team.

The rookie fullback vindicated his coach’s faith in him. Nix played well enough to displace Will Johnson at fullback. While the Steelers did use two back formations frequently, very quickly it was Nix and not Johnson that lined up offer extra protection for Ben Roethlisberger or to be lead blocker for Le’Veon Bell or DeAngelo Williams.

Todd Haley never gave Roosevelt Nix the chance to carry the ball, but Nix did catch two passes for 16 yards. He also excelled on special teams where he registered 7 solo tackles and helped force a fumble on a punt in the Steelers narrow victory over the Raiders.

Steelers Activate Fort to Take Nix’s Place

As fullback Roosevelt Nix season ends, L.T. Fort’s begins. To take Nix’s place on the roster, the Steelers have activated linebacker L.T. Fort.

The Steelers signed L.T. fort in August when they cut inside linebacker Jordan Zumwalt and while Fort didn’t make the active roster, he has been a member of the Steelers practice squad for the entire season.

Fort has been in the league since 2012, when he appeared in 16 games with the Cleveland Browns. Fort couldn’t hold a roster spot in 2013 and was out of football, although he did get into one game with the Seattle Seahawks in 2014 and he also spent time on the Cincinnati Bengals roster.

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Steelers Nation Speaks: Steelers 2015 Training Camp Roster Needs Poll Results

The Pittsburgh Steelers took advantage of the 2015 off season to strengthen their roster in a number of ways. They added DeAngelo Williams to back up Le’Veon Bell. Likewise, they retained the services of Will Johnson.

Most of their effort, however, focused on rebuilding the defense.

And their rebuilding efforts focused on the top, with Dick LeBeau resigning/was forced out, while Keith Butler stepped in to take his place.

  • These of course were not the only moves the Steelers made.

They drafted Bud Dupree, Senquez Golson, and Doran Grant to bolster their pass rush and secondary. And these were just prime picks, and they also picked up defensive lineman L.T. Walton and Anthony Chickillo. All told, the Pittsburgh Steelers made a lot of moves.

steelers-2015-training-camp-roster-needs-strengths-weaknesses

Fans were polled on the Steelers roster needs heading into 2015 training camp

But have they done enough?

Well, our little corner of Steelers Nation has spoken, and it would appear that the Steelers still have 3 prime areas of need.

First, fans seem to think that bench behind Ben Roethlisberger needs help. And less than a week into camp, that prediction seems to be accurate. Bruce Gradkowski is ailing, while Landry Jones is struggling – this is not good, as Jones entered camp fighting for his NFL life. The Steelers are also working in Tajh Boyd, Tyler Murphy and Devin Gardner. None of the three are looking particularly good.

Cornerback and safety are also areas of a fan concern. Cortez Allen is apparently playing well, but little has been heard of Shamarko Thomas, which might not be a bad thing.

  • Outside of that, no other position area even approached single digits.

And the fact that Steelers Nation is so unconcerned with the Steelers linebacking corps is suprising, especially considering that their only proven starter is James Harrison, who is closer to 40 than he is 30. Arthur Moats played well in 2014, but does not appear to be a long-term starter, and Jarvis Jones remains more of a question mark than anything else.

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Mike Tomlin Gets Two Year Contract Extension Through 2018

As a surprise to nobody, the Pittsburgh Steelers signed head coach Mike Tomlin to a two-year contract extension on Thursday, a deal which will keep him in Pittsburgh through the 2018 season.

  • Tomlin, 43, was hired in January of 2007 to replace Bill Cowher, who retired after 15-seasons with the Steelers.

Just a year removed from the Steelers winning Super Bowl XL in February of 2006, Tomlin stepped into some big shoes with big expectations and pretty much hit the ground running.  In his first season, Tomlin led the Steelers to a 10-win season and an AFC North title.

In Tomlin’s second year, the 2008 Steelers faced an historically tough schedule and met the challenge head-on, posting a 12-4 record, a second-straight division crown and, ultimately, a sixth Lombardi trophy after a thrilling 27-23 victory over the Cardinals in Super Bowl XLIII.

There would be one more Super Bowl appearance for the Steelers following the 2010 season (a 31-25 loss to the Packers in Super Bowl XLV) before some struggles would ensue.

However, after missing the playoffs for two straight seasons (2012 and 2013), Tomlin navigated Pittsburgh to an 11-5 record and AFC North crown a season ago.

According to ESPN.com, citing an unnamed source, the deal is said to be worth $7 million a year and puts Tomlin in the top-five of coaching salaries in the NFL.

Here’s a quote from Tomlin regarding the deal, courtesy of ESPN.com: “I very much appreciate the contract extension, but my sole focus has been and will continue to be meeting the challenges that lie ahead for the 2015 season. I look forward to pursuing what is the Steelers goal every year–bringing another Super Bowl championship to the city of Pittsburgh.

Tomlin’s all-time regular season record is 86-42, and he’s only the Steelers third head coach since 1969, when Chuck Noll was hired.

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Steelers Sign Cam Heyward to Contract Extension

The Steelers announced late Thursday night the signing of defensive end Cam Heyward to a contract extension. Heyward would have been a free-agent after this season, and according to several outlets,  the six-year extension includes the final year of Heyward’s current deal and will run through 2020. The deal is said to be worth $59.25 million.

The news isn’t shocking, as it’s quite common for the Steelers to sign players to extensions in the next-to-last year of their current deals (Ben Roethlisberger, who would have been a free-agent next season, signed an extension in March). But with training camp fast-approaching and the team’s long-standing policy of not negotiating deals once the regular season begins, the sooner an extension was reached for Heyward, the better.

Heyward was the Steelers first round pick out of Ohio State in the 2011 NFL Draft. And after a rather quiet start to his career, Heyward started to emerge as one of the defense’s next star players in his third season. In 2013, Heyward recorded five quarterback sacks and often wreaked havoc in the other team’s backfield.

  • A season ago, Heyward tied for the team-lead in sacks with 7.5 and was credited with eight quarterback pressures (or hurries).

With the Steelers defense struggling and trying to find as many young players as possible to get back to where it was in the Super Bowls days of the 2000s, stars are at a premium, and it looks like Cam Heyward will be a shining one for the team for many years to come.

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Watch Tower: Kovacevic ‘s Insight on Shamarko Thomas, Steelers Rozelle Award Irony and More

Steelers OTA’s are over. Minicamp has opened and closed. As Steelers Nation endures the only “true” NFL off season, the Watch Tower focuses its lights on Steelers press coverage of spring practices, the mystery that is Shamarko Thomas, Ben Roethlisberger and Todd Haley’s relationship, and the comings and goings of Charlie Batch.

Pete Rozelle Award for Steelers PR Staff Highlights Coverage Questions

The Pittsburgh Tribune-Review’s Mark Kaboly reports that the Pittsburgh Steelers PR staff has received the 2015 Rozelle Award which is presented “to the NFL club public relations staff that consistently strives for excellence in its dealings and relationships with the media.”

The Steelers, according to Kaboly, last won the award in 1991, and this year’s announcement brings into focus a question the Watch Tower has been seeking to answer for quite some time, namely:

  • How much are Steelers beat writers allowed to report on what they see in practice?

The Steelers Media Guide lays out strict instructions on where reporters can watch in practice, where and when they can approach players, and where and when video and still photos can be taken. Sometimes information slips out – such as Limas Sweed’s chronic drops in practice – but most of the time reporters remain tight lipped.

This followed Steelers 2014 OTA’s, where any Steelers fan who registered a pulse knew that Ryan Shazier was starting and Mark Kaboly even published video of Sean Spence hitting the tackling dummy. The Steelers PR staff was loosening practice reporting restrictions, or so it seemed.

  • Which makes what happened during Steelers 2015 OTA’s all the more surprising.

When Steelers OTA’s opened, Steel Curtain Rising asked a Steelers beat writer via Twitter whether Shamarko Thomas was running with the Steelers first team defense, and that reporter explained – in private – that he could not share that information publicly….

…So reporters cannot comment on whether Shamarko Thomas is starting – during OTA’s – but the Steelers PR staff wins awards for excellence in dealing with the press. Somehow 1+1 isn’t equaling 2 for the Watch Tower here.

Dejan Kovacevic Does Offer Interesting, If Disturbing Insight on Shamarko

The biggest forward looking story line of the Steelers 2015 offseason has been the development of Shamarko Thomas. (Dick LeBeau’s ”resignation” and Troy Polamalu’s retirement were bigger but backward looking stories.)

  • With two full seasons under his belt, Shamarko Thomas remains a mystery.

In the 2013 NFL Draft, the Steelers did the unheard of – they traded a 2014 pick to move up to draft Shamarko Thomas in the 4th. The Pittsburgh Steelers simply don’t trade future draft picks – it is akin to the American Cancer Society’s president lighting a cigarette while sitting in a hospital waiting room.

Yet the Steelers did it to get Shamarko Thomas. True to their actions, the Steelers played Shamarko Thomas early in 2013. His injury led to Will Allen’s return, but Shamarko still saw sometime time in the secondary until the disastrous loss vs. the Patriots.

Since then, Shamarko Thomas has excelled on special teams, but has been unable to get snaps with the defense. Yes, Shamarko’s injuries haven’t helped, but even after he returned to full health and Troy Polamalu was held out of the final games of 2014, Shamarko still couldn’t get snaps with the secondary.

  • And no one knows why.

However, independent Pittsburgh journalist Dejan Kovacevic offers some interesting insights on why. Steel Curtain Rising’s editorial policy is not to steal the thunder of another writer in these circumstances, but we strongly encourage you to review Kovacevic’s story on Shamarko.

He doesn’t cite any sources either on the record nor does Kovacevic make references to “Steelers personnel” or “league sources.” He might have talked to someone on background or he might simply be following his journalistic intuition.

Either way, Kovacevic’s explanation of why the Steelers haven’t played Shamarko Thomas is as reasonable as one can find. And for that Kovacevic wins Watch Tower kudos.

Haley’s Influence on Ben Roethlisberger

How times change. Just two years ago, the Watch Tower was praising Steelers Digest Bob Labriola for “outing” the tense relationship between Ben Roethlisberger and Todd Haley. This wasn’t “news” of course, as it had been covered extensively and denied just as vehemently by both Haley and Roethlisberger.

  • But Labriola, as an employee of the Pittsburgh Steelers, made it official as only he could.

Since then there have been attempts to report flair ups, but those stories never really found their legs. And in the process, the Steelers offense has gotten really, really efficient.

  • Yet little has been written about how Roethlisberger and Haley have “gotten on” as the British say.

That changed thanks to the Pittsburgh Tribune Review’s Joe Starkey. While Starkey doesn’t get Ben on the record talking about Haley (Roethlisberger only credited Steelers quarterbacks coach Randy Fichtner) he does chart Roethlisberger’s transformation from “a quarterback who has morphed from freelance gunslinger to pocket marksman” and in the process perhaps penned one of the better stories written about the Steelers this off season.

Bostic on Batch on BTSC

The Watch Tower devoted extensive coverage to Neal Coolong’s departure from Behind the Steel Curtain to USA Today’s The Steelers Wire earlier this spring, and it is only fair that it shift some attention back to BTSC (full disclosure, yours truly was (is?) a part time, non-paid, contributor to BTSC.)

Coolong’s departure lead to Jeff Hartman’s promotion to BTSC’s editor, and in the process, Hartman has added several new writers. Among them is Dani Bostic, who treated Steelers Nation to an excellent series of stories on the life and times of former Steelers backup quarterback Charlie Batch.

In three part series, Bostic chronicled Charlie Batch’s NFL career, his transition to post-NFL life, and perhaps most importantly, his work and tireless dedication helping underserved populations in his hometown neighborhood of Homestead. Bostic wins Watch Tower kudos for both writing an excellent series of stories, but also for reaching out and getting interviews with Batch.

For more of The Watch Tower’s analysis of Pittsburgh Steelers press coverage, click here.

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NFL Network Disses Ben Roethlisberger in 2015 Top 100 List

The NFL Network is releasing its annual NFL’s 100 Best Players list although they’ve only named the top 80 players, Steelers Nation has bone to pick.

How’s that?

OK, each NFL team carries 53 players on their active rosters, up to 10 on their practice squads, and let’s say an average of 5 players on injured reserve. Multiply that by 32 NFL teams, and you have 2,176 players under the employ of the NFL in any given season. Actually, that number is probably higher and one could conservatively round it up to 2200.

  • That puts Ben Roethlisberger in the top 1.5% of all NFL players.

Not bad, huh?

While placing in the top 1.5% is certainly an accomplishment, it still fails to do Roethlisberger justice. To understand why, put yourself through a simple test: If all NFL players were suddenly declared eligible for a re-draft, would Ben Roethlisberger be the 26th player chosen in the said draft?

  • Almost certainly not.

Andrew Luck would probably certainly go first. Tom Brady and Peyton Manning (Neal Coolong of The Steelers Wire has some interesting observations on Manning) almost certainly would go before Ben, as would Aaron Rogers. But outside of that, how many other quarterbacks would be taken before Roethlisberger? How many other players? JJ Watt? Sure. There are others. Because of his age, Ben might not even make it into the top 10.

  • But there’s no way that Roethlisberger, as one of the 3 active quarterbacks with more than one Super Bowl ring, would go 26.

There’s no way getting around it. NFL Network is dissing Ben Roethlisberger, even if 26th is an improvement over his 2014 rating of 31, and even if 26 is his best ranking yet.

Thurs far the Pittsburgh Steelers are not finding much love in the NFL Networks Top 100 players list. Marukice Pouncey qualified as the 83rd best player, and is the only other Steelers to make the list. Antonio Brown is certain to make into the top 20, and perhaps, perhaps, Le’Veon Bell will make it as well. And while recognition of Bell would be welcome, placing Le’Veon Bell ahead of Ben Roethlisberger is a mistake.

Ben Roethilsberger not getting his just due from the rest of the NFL is nothing new. In 2006 ESPN rated 100 sure Hall of Famers and left Ben Roethlisberger out declaring him as a “Game Manager” while putting Matt Leinart as a sure-fire bet for Canton….

  • How that one work out?

Since that time Roethlisbeger has of course won another Super Bowl and led his team to a second. You’d think the pundits in the national media would simply accept that Roethlisberger has earned elite status. Guess not….

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Steelers Nation Predicts: Bud Dupree Is Next Jason Gildon

Steelers Nation has spoken and Steelers 2015 1st round pick Bud Dupree is going to be…

…The next Jason Gildon.

At least that is how the voting broke down in Steel Curtain Rising’s post draft poll.

Bud Dupree, Steelers 2015 Draft, Jason Gildon

Survey Picks Bud Dupree as Next Jason Gildon

27% of the voters have pegged Bud Dupree to be the next Jason Gildon. Another 23% say he’s going to follow in the footsteps of linebacking legend Greg Lloyd. Close on Greg Lloyd’s heels is current Steelers linebacking elder statesman James Harrison whose support clocked in at 21%.

Apparently outside linebackers coach Joey Porter’s influence only counts for so much, as just 17% of the voters saw Dupree as the next Porter.

  • Those are the only players getting any love in this sub-sample of opinion in Steelers Nation.

The next highest vote getter was the 11% who felt the Steelers should have used their first round draft pick on a cornerback. Bryan Hinkle, who provided quality outside linebacking for Chuck Noll’s Steelers squads in the 80’s, found no love, and neither did Carlos Emmons, whom morphed from a 1996 7th round pick into a two year starter.

  • Neither Emmons nor Hinkle was bad, but it would be a disappointment if Dupree only managed to develop their level.

Jack Ham, the Steelers Hall of Fame linebacker, only got one vote. That’s perhaps a tad bit ironic, because Dupree’s athletic skill set should at least, in paper, give him the kind of versatility that Ham had. But clearly, projecting Dupree as a future Hall of Famer before he’s even put on the pads is premature.

Word Dupree Coming Out of Steelers OTA’s

There wasn’t a lot of information to come out of Steelers OTA’s on Bud Dupree, which is a marked contrast to Ryan Shazier a year ago. The Steelers shocked much of their fan base in the 2014 NFL Draft, when they took Ryan Shazier in the first round, when everyone knew Pittsburgh was thinking cornerback or wide receiver.

  • The Steelers continued to go against the conventional wisdom during OTA’s when they immediately installed Shazier as the starter.

By all accounts, they’re not doing the same thing with Dupree, as Arthur Moats is running with the first unit, although the word is the Bud Dupree is likely to get time at outside linebacker in the Steelers nickel defense.

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Top Storylines as Steelers Mini Camp 2015 Closes

The Pittsburgh Steelers wrapped up Mini camp this week and now the true off season begins. Mike Tomlin has long discounted spring practices as “Football in shorts” and it is true that there isn’t a lot to be learned from these sessions. Hence, Jim Wexell’s report that Tomlin tersely snapped a “no” as a response to a question about whether the rookies impressed him should surprise no one.

  • But this is 2015 the machine-like appetite of Steelers Nation must be fed.

Storylines emerge every year during Steelers OTA’s and Mini Camps and 2015 was no exception. The main storylines as the Steelers mini camp 2015 closes follow below Mike Tomlin’s picture.

The Steelers Offense is Poised to Explode

This should come as a surprise to no one. If the unit sputtered during the first half of 2014, it soared in the second. Ben Roethlisberger is playing the best football of his career, and Antonio Brown, Markus Wheaton, Martavis Bryant give him a potential lethal triple threat.

And that doesn’t include potential contributions from Heath Miller or rookie 3rd round pick Sammie Coates.

  • And, for what it is worth, the consensus of the Steelers press corps is that Martavis Bryant is set up for a break out year.

Johnny Mitchell Is Happy

As Dale Lolley points out, neither man has put on the pads yet, but Daniel McCullers and Clifton Geathers have both come to camp in shape, and both have Steelers defensive line coach Johnny Mitchell beaming.

For Steelers Linebackers Two is Better than One

The shape and direction of the defense under new defensive coordinator Keith Butler was a hot topic of course. But truth be told, there was little real news on front and there will not likely be any until the Steelers open vs. the Patriots.

One change that people are talking about is the decision to split the linebacking coaching duties between Joey Porter and Jerry Olsavsky.

The interesting thing is that move was made at the behest of Butler, who himself apprenticed under Dick LeBeau as his linebackers coach.

Steelers Undrafted Rookie Free Agents Generating a Buzz

Kevin Colbert has been an ace at finding unrestricted rookie free agents who blossom into legit NFL players, from stars like James Harrison and Willie Parker, to solid starters like Steve McLendon, to role players like Isaac Redman.

Going into training camp members of the Steelers 2015 undrafted rookie free agent class who’re generating a buzz include tight end Cameron Clear, wide receiver C.J. Goodwin, cornerback Kevin Fogg and, while they’re signed officially as wide receivers, Tyler Murphy and Devin Gardner will at least get a shot at challenging Landry Jones for the third quarterback slot.

Although, it’s worth noting, that per Dale Lolley, Landry Jones looked pretty good in mini camp.

But, as Mike Tomlin would remind us, let’s see how things play out when the pads to on and the hitting starts. See you in Latrobe, Steelers Nation!

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Landry Jones Steelers Future in Doubt; Pittsburgh Pushing Jones at 3rd Quarterback Spot

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.

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