Published: 9:23 pm, Sun. Jul. 24th, 2016Updated: 9:18 pm
The only quarterback the Steelers drafted in the past eight years walked off the field to end the final day of his fourth minicamp seconds before a downpour, which was appropriate.
Landry Jones walked through the raindrops far too long with the Steelers without so much as getting wet behind the ears. Then came the 2015 season, when he found himself thrust from third string to second string to pulling the strings.
He never wore a Steelers uniform for a game other than in the preseason his first two years. Then he found himself in the middle of 2015 trying to keep one of the most talented offenses in the league afloat. He did it well enough by coming off the bench to throw two touchdown passes and no interceptions in his first NFL appearance to help beat Arizona, then started two other games, with the reviews mixed.
Nevertheless, it now appears the backup job to Ben Roethlisberger is Jones’ to lose with veteran Bruce Gradkowski there to pick things up if necessary. Jones took most of the snaps as the No. 2 quarterback this spring, just as he did a year ago while Gradkowski mostly watched with a sore shoulder.
Jones now is the quarterback they likely will turn to first if something happens to Roethlisberger again. At least, that is how it appears for now. That could change by Aug. 17 or Sept 17.
There is not much to go on to determine whether Jones could operate their high-powered offense well enough to keep them in the hunt, but they have more evidence than they did a year ago. Some have seen a different Jones this spring.
“I noticed the confidence,” Roethlisberger said. “He’s always been really smart. He knows the playbook, he knows what’s going on. But to be able to be on the football field, and actually be under fire, if you will, as compared to being on the practice field is a big difference.
“So for him to get that experience last year I think really paid off a lot for him.”
Coach Mike Tomlin agreed.
“You would think so,” Tomlin said. “Common sense would suggest so. The proof is in the pudding. We will see moving forward. Oftentimes guys take snaps and run with them, and that experience changes them forever in a positive way. That’s our hope in regards to some of the playing opportunities that he had a year ago. I know he delivered for us some. Hopefully that’s a springboard moving forward.”
The Steelers drafted Jones of Oklahoma in the fourth round in 2013, the third quarterback drafted by them after they made Roethlisberger their only first-round quarterback in 24 years in 2004. They followed by taking Omar Jacobs (2006) and Dennis Dixon (2008) in the fifth round and then Jones.
None was considered an heir to Roethlisberger, 34, but this is an important season for Jones; he could show he deserves to hold onto No. 2 with the Steelers now and into the future as he enters his final season under contract. Things also could go the other way, where Gradkowski, 33, resumes his Charlie Batch role in the years ahead and Jones fades into oblivion.
“Something has to happen,” said Jones, a native of Artesia, N.M. “I’m not going to freak myself out about it. I’m going to go about my business and play the way I have been playing.
“I feel like sometimes some people can overthink some stuff in a contract year and overpress trying to be too perfect. For me, I’m going to go out there and cut it loose and whatever happens next year it’s going to happen.”
Tomlin noted that Jones might have gotten more play at quarterback in the 2015 preseason than any other in the history of the game. That might be pushing it, but with Gradkowski hurt and Roethlisberger traditionally not playing much, Jones played most of the way in their five preseason games. He threw 120 passes. Roethlisberger threw 21, Mike Vick 10 and Gradkowski five.
Jones is not likely to get that kind of work again this summer because Gradkowski needs to shake off the rust. One day, the Steelers will have to devise a plan to replace Roethlisberger, 34. This is not that time, but if it is forced on them, they can only hope Jones and/or Gradkowski are up to the task.