2013 Steelers position preview: Quarterbacks

Justin K. Aller

There's no question who will start under center for the Steelers, but how many others will have to start could be a key factor in the success they'll have this year.

Barring injury, Ben Roethlisberger will be the starting quarterback for the Steelers in 2013.

Bold prediction, right?

Which Roethlisberger will the Steelers get? The icy assassin the league feared from Weeks 1-9, or the one who was injured in Week 10, missed Weeks 11-13 and returned still somewhat hurt and erratic?

The Steelers were a solid 5-3 entering Week 10 against Kansas City. Roethlisberger didn't perform well in that game and was injured early in the third quarter. The Steelers eeked out a win over the Chiefs to move to 6-3, but their season was largely ended when he walked off the Heinz Field grass/sand mixture.

Pittsburgh finished the season losing five of seven games, wasting outstanding defensive performances against Baltimore (a 13-10 loss where they did not allow an offensive touchdown) and Cincinnati (another 13-10 loss where they kept their opponents' offense out of the end zone). Roethlisberger threw a late pick against the Bengals setting up the game-losing field goal. He tossed another pick against Dallas in overtime, giving the Cowboys a chip-shot game-winner.

Teams are bigger than any one player, but no player is as important to his team in major pro sports than a quarterback. It's hard to lose when that quarterback is on, and, in the case of the Steelers in 2012, it can be really easy to lose when that same quarterback isn't on.

Roethlisberger has had the offseason to heal, and some time away from the game. He's had more time and conversation with second-year offensive coordinator Todd Haley. Even with the loss of Mike Wallace and the injury of Heath Miller, Roethlisberger should be able to maintain the high level pace he had when he was healthy last year.

If not, though, the Steelers will turn to a different face in 2013. Veteran journeyman Bruce Gradkowski is carrying on the legacy of a native yinzer backing up Roethlisberger. Charlie Batch was not retained, neither was Byron Leftwich, and the Steelers drafted Oklahoma QB Landry Jones, who will likely assume the third quarterback spot on the depth chart.

Gradkowski has been on the receiving end of a few beat-downs from the Steelers in his time with Tampa Bay and Cincinnati, but he led the Raiders to a dramatic and improbable victory over the Steelers in 2009.

That and six bucks will get you a Terrible Towel, but Bruce Gradkowski's experience is worth more than that. Having a veteran who has been the starter, a back-up and an injury replacement is vital. His perspective during the week of practice is helpful, as well as his knowledge of how to prepare for a game.

The Steelers are hoping some of that rubs off on Jones, who's currently trying to shake off what was reportedly a rough Organized Training Activities and minicamp season. Jones' selection was easily the most scrutinized by fans and media alike, but the age and expense of Leftwich and Batch made it an appropriate time to try to groom a young quarterback - something the team hasn't done since Roethlisberger started the season third behind Batch and Tommy Maddox on the Steelers' 2004 depth chart.

Simply put, the Steelers can be a highly successful team is Roethlisberger is healthy and playing 15 games a season. When he isn't, or he can't, they won't fare as well.

That seems nearly as obvious as saying he'll be the team's starter in 2012.

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