Steelers have legitimate QB controversy brewing in training camp

Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sport

How much value will the Steelers place on the fourth-round draft pick spent to acquire a quarterback if only ends up being their fourth-best passer?

The Pittsburgh Steelers are notorious for finding diamonds in the undrafted rough of free-agency, yet there are reasons why some players are picked and others are passed over on draft day.

Some people felt Landry Jones would have been a first- or second-round selection had he left the Oklahoma Sooners following the 2011 season. He stayed for his senior season, and wound up a fourth-round pick in the 2013 NFL draft.

In a recent interview with The Oklahoman, Jones talked about whether he made the right decision by staying in school his senior season, no matter how many Oklahoma and Big-12 passing records he broke along the way.

"There's all kinds of speculation out there on whether if I had come out last year I might have gotten drafted higher. It turned out I got drafted in the fourth round. That's exactly where I was supposed to go. It's a good situation for me."

He accredits the good of his situation to the ability to watch and learn from Ben Roethlisberger. Jones is not quite as big as 'Big Ben', although at 6-3 and 220 pounds, he is big enough to fit the desired mold for pocket passers. However, size is not the final determining factor of NFL viability; and neither is any collegiate passing statistic or record. When final roster cuts are made, players must earn their right to take the field.

"This is different, knowing you're at the bottom of the depth chart. You just have to put your head down and start grinding. When it's your opportunity, you have to take advantage."

Unfortunately for Jones, he has not been the one taking advantage of a 'good situation'; his rival John Parker Wilson has.

Wilson was claimed off waivers from the Jacksonville Jaguars in February, with no certainty about obtaining a quarterback in the upcoming draft. Wilson would - if nothing else - provide extra competition for the right to backup Roethlisberger. The team signed NFL journeyman and Pittsburgh-native Bruce Gradkowski in free-agency, and he is expected to take Byron Leftwich's place as Ben's primary backup, leaving Wilson as the team's third with Charlie Batch left unsigned. The team then drafted Jones, relegating Wilson to labels like 'odd man out' and 'camp body'.

However, as OTAs passed and training camp now rolls into its second full week, Wilson is the one producing. Reports spilling out of Latrobe only mention Jones with verbs like 'struggling' and 'inaccurate'. Those same reports drop the name of Wilson in conjunction with handling bad snaps in pressure situations, finding open receivers despite protection breakdowns and completing touchdown passes.

Pittsburgh will have four preseason games to decide which quarterback deserves to be the third-string reserve, and who will remain unemployed. Jones may have been drafted as a project, but as the Steelers have learned first-hand during Roethlisberger's career - third-stringers must be capable of taking Ben's place on any given Sunday.

Will the drafted Jones eventually catch up with his potential, or will the undrafted Wilson's NFL experience leave the draft pick in the dust? If Wilson continues to outperform Jones, will the team still stick with the one who cost them a draft pick anyway?

The battle begins when the Steelers take on the New York Giants in the first preseason game on Saturday.

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