Kevin Gorman: Steelers backup QBs in ‘weird, weird position’
Landry Jones is blunt about the position he plays and even more so about the position he’s in with the Steelers.
“Backup quarterback is just a weird, weird position,” Jones said. “It’s like, you’re a leader but not really, until you have to be. You’re more in the background than anything. It’s an odd thing. Most of the time, you don’t want to be seen or heard. Once Ben’s not here, you have to be seen and heard.”
The story of these OTAs isn’t the absence of Ben Roethlisberger, Antonio Brown and Le’Veon Bell as it is that Jones is splitting reps with Josh Dobbs and Mason Rudolph, the quarterbacks drafted to replace him.
“Obviously, Ben’s job is real safe,” Jones said, “but every year they’re going to bring in a new guy to challenge for that backup spot.”
Roethlisberger caused a stir with his comments after the Steelers selected Rudolph in the third round out of Oklahoma State last month — Bedlam for the Oklahoma alum, who reminds Rudolph at least once a day that he was 3-1 against the Cowboys — a year after they took Dobbs in the fourth round out of Tennessee.
But Jones is the one who should have been concerned about what their arrival meant to his standing with the Steelers, as his backup job is suddenly not so safe.
Jones sees the writing on the wall. He has learned to be not only deferential but self-deprecating, so he takes it in stride with comments that it’s business as usual and that he’s just happy the Steelers kept him around for a sixth season.
“That’s no different since I’ve been in this league,” Jones said. “To me, it’s no different than when they brought Mike Vick in. It’s just different in that it’s a high draft pick.”
It’s new for Dobbs, who is still learning the system and has yet to play in an NFL regular-season game.
“There’s no interesting dynamic. It’s just the nature of the NFL,” Dobbs said. “That’s how this league works. You’ve got to come up, show up every single day, whether you’re in the middle of the season or whether you’re in OTAs.
“Every single year they’re probably going to draft a quarterback, so you have to be ready to compete every day, show up and show off.”
Well, show off as much as a quarterback can in helmets and shorts, without All-Pros like Bell in the backfield and Brown in the receiving corps. But every repetition counts, especially early in the backup quarterback competition.
“It’s really invaluable, just to get those reps and take advantage of those opportunities,” Dobbs said. “We know reps are hard to come by once you get into the season, so whenever you’re able to take advantage of these opportunities, it’s a game-like situation and I’m trying to be perfect out here. That’s the goal.”
Right now, the goal is to take advantage of every extra rep. Many of them are with the first-team offense but, even more important, against the first-team defense.
“It’s super, super, super great for them to get those because they’re not only practicing with us but they’re practicing against a defense that’s flying lights out, that’s actually trying to get to them and intercept them,” Steelers left guard Ramon Foster said. “They’re trying to make them look like backups. If they have a few good days, it does nothing but boost their confidence.”
Foster noted Jones has talked about wanting to be a backup in the mold of Nick Foles, who filled in for starter Carson Wentz and won MVP honors in leading the Philadelphia Eagles to their first Super Bowl win.
Jones maximized his opportunity Wednesday at UPMC Rooney Sports Complex by throwing a deep touchdown pass against the starters.
In other words, there are already signs the competition is bringing out the best in the Steelers’ quarterbacks, even if the best of the Steelers quarterbacks isn’t at OTAs.
“Their edge is a little bit different,” Foster said. “They’re catching on to it a little bit faster, and they recognize that this isn’t a guarantee for them.
“I don’t know many rosters that have four quarterbacks, but you never know, they might decide to keep all of them.”
No one is counting on that. Jones, Dobbs and Rudolph know they are here at each other’s expense, a weird situation for a weird position.
This is their best shot to be seen and heard by the Steelers, especially considering Big Ben hasn’t been since the first day of OTAs.
Kevin Gorman is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or via Twitter @KGorman_Trib.