clock menu more-arrow no yes

Filed under:

Pittsburgh Steelers Training Camp Position Preview: Quarterback

New, comments

Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger had a career year in 2014. Backup Bruce Gradkowski is a former starter and is well-liked in the city. So how in the world is there a quarterback controversy in Pittsburgh? Simple: Landry Jones is still on the roster. For now.

Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

With training camp mere weeks away, one thing is certain: there is a quarterback controversy in Pittsburgh.

So what if it's at the number-three spot?

Ben Roethlisberger, a potential Hall-of-Fame quarterback when his career eventually draws to a close, is and has been the entrenched number one since taking over for Tommy Maddox early in the 2004 season. There has been little doubt of that, save for a brief period in 2010 when some called for his dismissal from the team after being suspended for "actions detrimental to the league."

He's seen several quality, number-two options behind him on the depth chart -- Charlie Batch, Byron Leftwich and Bruce Gradkowski have all been starters in the league -- but Roethlisberger is, has been and will be the starter. End of that discussion.

But at number three? It would be an understatement to say Landry Jones has underwhelmed in two seasons. Sure, not even Gradkowski has seen the field in that time, except a few snaps in the team's playoff loss to the Ravens in 2014. But when a young, fourth-round draft pick can't surpass an aging guy who couldn't keep his grip on the starting position in quarterbacking black holes like Tampa Bay, Cleveland and Oakland -- apologies to Bruce, who has been the consummate home-town teammate -- that guy will not be long for this league.

So it is with Jones, who now faces potential challenges from former New York Jet Tajh Boyd, as well as rookies Devin Gardner of Michigan and Tyler Murphy of Boston College. The sad truth is that any of the three would likely be an improvement. The even sadder truth is that simply not carrying a third quarterback on the 53-man roster may be the best option of all, considering the competitors.

That's not to say one of them can't surprise. Boyd had pretty solid numbers in his final two years of college, against decent-if-not-spectacular competition in the ACC. He lacks ideal height for the position, though, was a sixth-round draft pick in 2014, and is seen much more as an athlete than a quarterback.

That last point, however, is the trend for all the challengers to Landry Jones' roster spot.

Gardner, the tallest of the three challengers at 6 feet 4-inches, was average at best as a quarterback at Michigan. His 2014 season was, from a passing perspective, downright dreadful. A 2-to-3 touchdown-to-interception ration can be described in no other way.

Murphy's numbers are no better, and his experience is far thinner. Luckily for both he and Gardner, the team seems to have a different plan: having them channel their inner Kordell Stewart.

Stewart, the team's starting quarterback from 1997 to 2001, was frequently fans' scapegoat for an under-performing offense that simply lacked playmakers and depth. But he had talents that surpassed his position, allowing him to be one of the NFL's early "flex" quarterbacks, who could throw, run and catch. It's a concept that gives defenses fits if executed properly, and the Steelers seem to view Gardner and Murphy as guys who may potentially fill this role.

It is this quality that makes them intriguing as number-three quarterbacks, especially in light of the extra-point rules changes that take effect this season. The new rules may encourage teams to opt for a two-point try more often, and having players who can play multiple roles allows for more trickery. If either of these guys can demonstrate an ability to be that guy, they will have a significant chance of sending Jones packing.

But that all assumes they surpass Boyd, too. Despite being at least a little more of a traditional quarterback, he at least has time on an NFL roster. Granted, he couldn't beat out Geno Smith or a rapidly declining Michael Vick. But it's still possible Smith becomes a decent starter, and Vick's deterioration could reach Tiger Woods' level in terms of rapidity.

My Absurdly Early Prediction: Roethlisberger and Gradkowski are stable at one and two, at least through 2015. Boyd will make Jones expendable, but will spend no more regular-season time in a helmet than Jones every did. Which is, precisely, none.