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Assessing the dismal Pittsburgh Steelers backup QB situation

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The Steelers have dependable depth at nearly every position, contingencies should one of their elite players endure injury, either for a couple of games or for longer stretches of time. Still, when it comes to the most essential position, namely Quarterback, the quality of depth is questionable for a number of reasons, all of which are problematic for a team looking to make a run at the Super Bowl this year.

Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

Proven commodities

Last season, when Le’Veon Bell went down, veteran DeAngelo Williams took his place and finished the season with 907 yards on 200 carries. When Williams was lost for the playoffs, Fitzgerald Toussaint stepped in and was effective (despite that costly fumble against Denver). 

The same backfield should be in place this season. 

In lieu of Martavis Bryant missing the season due to his suspension, the Steelers have Sammie Coates, a big receiver with plenty of speed. He demonstrated both in the playoffs against Denver on a nifty 37-yard catch and run. 

They also made a fairly big splash in free agency by signing TE Ladarius Green. For backups, they’ve got Jesse James and veteran, Matt Spaeth.

There’s also depth on defense. James Harrison and Arthur Moats rotate with Jarvis Jones and Bud Dupree. The main backup inside is Vince Williams. They even recently supplemented the front seven by signing linebacker Steven Johnson and defensive lineman Ricardo Matthews in free agency. 

Say what you will about the secondary, it’s got plenty of depth. Will Gay and, presumably, Ross Cockrell are the starting corners. Artie Burns and last year’s second round pick Senquez Golson should challenge for starting spots and playing time. 

At safety, Robert Golden will battle rookie Sean Davis for the starter spot opposite Mike Mitchell

Virtually every starting position has quality talent ready to step in. Heck, as it stands now, the Steelers even have two starting kickers: Shaun Suisham and Chris Boswell

Fear without Ben

Most Steelers fans witnessed the nightmare that ensued when Landry Jones stepped into the game for the injured Ben Roethlisberger against Cincinnati in the AFC Wild Card Game this past January. 

Jones has proven he can play, evidenced by his performance against Arizona when he threw two TDs and rallied the team to an important victory. He’s come miles from where he was when the Steelers drafted him in the fourth round out of Oklahoma in 2013. Jones has a good arm and is capable of making throws. He went 32 for 55 and passed for 513 yards and three touchdowns in his seven regular season appearances. Yet, his penchant for interceptions (four in seven games, not all of which he started) make him a huge question mark heading into the season. 

It was somewhat of a relief that the team re-signed Bruce Gradkowski to a one year contract. After all, he’s got plenty of experience and toughness, but has barely thrown a pass in three seasons with the team (three in the AFC Wild Card game vs. the Ravens two years ago). He may be able to win a game or two, but beyond that? 

A Move Missed

The Steelers could’ve solidified the backup position by signing free agent, Brian Hoyer. In fact, at one point it was rumored they were interested in him. Last week, Hoyer agreed to a $2 million deal to backup Jay Cutler in Chicago.

Is that price too steep for a backup QB? Perhaps. But Hoyer’s been a starter in this league and has had decent success. He’s got a 58.1 completion percentage, which isn’t bad. He’s also thrown 38 touchdowns and 26 interceptions. Not fantastic, but not bad either.

Hoyer would’ve been a definite upgrade to the backup QB position, and Steelers fans could breathe a bit easier if he had to see extended playing time.

To sign Hoyer, the team could’ve released or traded Landry Jones. They also could’ve released or traded Shaun Suisham. They could’ve made it work. Granted, the point is moot now, since Hoyer is off the table.

Something to consider

Arguably, the Steelers most important players are (in no particular order): Antonio Brown, Maurkice Pouncey, Lawrence Timmons, Le’Veon Bell, and Roethlisberger. 

Darrius Heyward-Bey and Coates can fill the void for Brown. So can Markus Wheaton. Of course, no one replaces Brown’s ability and production, but there’s plenty of skill and experience at the position should Brown go down. This was proven against Denver in the playoffs. 

Cody Wallace showed that he can step in for Pouncey. Vince Williams is a steady backup for Lawrence Timmons. For Bell, there’s DeAngelo Williams. 

For Big Ben...Jones? Gradkowski? By all indications they’re great teammates, but the thought of one having to win several games doesn’t instill a great deal of confidence at this juncture. 

Of course, the thing to hope for is that neither is needed at all.