When you think back to 2015 and Landry Jones, you could have pictured a relief pitcher coming out of the bullpen to help close out a game. He came into the game in relief of Michael Vick against the Arizona Cardinals, again to spell Ben Roethlisberger against the Oakland Raiders and again in the AFC Wild Card Game against the Cincinnati Bengals.
He only started two games in 2015, a loss to the Kansas City Chiefs at Arrowhead Stadium, and a game where he played just one series against the Cleveland Browns before leaving with an ankle injury. Nonetheless, whenever he entered the game, it was a double whammy for the Pittsburgh offense as they had to rely on a backup quarterback and backup center Cody Wallace for protection calls, etc.
According to MMQB columnist Albert Breer, Todd Haley and Mike Tomlin had to not only limit the playbook with Jones under center, but had to rely on others for protection calls and adjustments at the line of scrimmage.
"Last year, the Steelers handed off some responsibility for setting protections to veteran center Cody Wallace to take some pressure off Jones. I'm told there's no plan to do that this time around. Jones will handle it, mostly because the Steelers feel he's capable of shouldering the load."
The fact the Steelers had to hand off some of the protection calls, etc. to a veteran offensive lineman like Wallace shouldn't surprise anyone, but the fact they now trust him to handle all pre-snap reads at least shows confidence in the development and maturation of Jones' ability in this area.
Breer continues, "Mike Tomlin and OC Todd Haley and QB coach Randy Fichtner feel about as good as they can, given the circumstances, and the time they've put into developing Jones. The feeling now is he has better feel in the pocket and is more confident than he was last year, not to mention more experience."
Well, this is all true, but there are also other areas to point to which will aide Jones in his first start of 2016.
First, center Maurkice Pouncey being back in the lineup will be a godsend for Jones from a protection and communication standpoint. Second, Le'Veon Bell will be in the backfield for the majority of the snaps, and his ability as a runner, pass catcher and blocker shouldn't go unnoticed. Lastly, if Jones doesn't have a grasp of the scheme, playbook and cohesion with his teammates by now, it might never happen.
The table is set for Jones to play well. Outside of Marcus Gilbert likely missing his third consecutive game, the offense, as a whole, is in tact. Defeating the Patriots in Week 7 is no easy task, but Jones should not be the reason for the team to lose. In his fourth year with the team, all in Todd Haley's system, if he fails miserably on Sunday, the writing could be on the wall not only for Jones' future in Pittsburgh, but who will be getting first team reps after the bye week if Ben Roethlisberger continues to rest his injured knee.