Starkey: The Landry Jones pick pans out
You weren’t the only one who wondered as recently as, oh, 40 days ago whether Landry Jones could play in the NFL.
Jones wondered, too.
“You go through different situations of doubting yourself and whether you can actually go out and play,” Jones said. “You don’t know until you actually get the opportunity.”
I’ll be honest here: I still don’t understand why the Steelers drafted Jones in the fourth round of the 2013 draft. It seemed like a luxury pick for a team that was in no position to make luxury picks. The Steelers were starving for talent on the defensive side.
Charlie Batch, whose admirable tenure ended the instant Jones’ name was called, openly wondered whether the team was thinking ahead to replacing Ben Roethlisberger so it wouldn’t have to give Roethlisberger one more mega contract. That turned out to be a crazy thought — but slightly less crazy, it seemed, than drafting Jones in the first place.
After Jones languished for much of his first two years, the Steelers signed Mike Vick rather than hand Jones the backup job when Bruce Gradkowski got injured. And now that Jones finally has shown something, he might have only one year left before he seeks opportunity elsewhere. The Steelers will have developed him for another team’s benefit.
If all the Steelers get from Jones is his performance in two critical games — Arizona and Oakland — the pick was worth it. For both parties: Jones and the team.
“I feel like I’ve shown people enough to where, yeah, I’m talented enough, and I prepare enough to where I can play in this league,” Jones said. “I’ve proved it to myself, too.”
I’m not sure whether Jones has proven he has a starter’s future or even if he is worth extending to be Roethlisberger’s long-term backup. But he absolutely has shown he can step into difficult situations at the highest level and make necessary plays. His numbers are his numbers, as Mike Tomlin might say, and his numbers look like this: 31 for 51 for 479 yards, three touchdowns, two interceptions and a passer rating of 95.1.
True, it helped that a couple of wildly talented receivers (Martavis Bryant and Antonio Brown) turned short passes into long gains, but we’ve all seen backup quarterbacks who are disasters, and Jones is not one of them. He is preternaturally calm, whether walking through the locker room or walking into a tense game against the Cardinals.
He attributes his calmness to his Christianity.
“That’s the reason I can go out there and react and read and play without fear,” Jones said. “There’s no fear in what I do. You gotta go out there and cut it loose.”
You might not agree with Tomlin’s decision to start Jones over Big Ben against the Cleveland Browns. I didn’t. But think about the trust Tomlin put into his backup that day. The franchise quarterback was more than capable of playing, yet Tomlin figured Jones could buy him some recovery time and deliver a winning performance.
Jones’ work habits and smarts have inspired confidence in those around him.
“He is, above the shoulders, as smart and sharp as any quarterback I’ve ever been around,” Roethlisberger said. “That’s a credit to his hard work, dedication and determination. He’s always in the meetings almost bugging our quarterback coach because he’s just constantly doing more and more.
“It shows, because he’s stepped up when his number’s been called.”
For all anyone knows, Jones might already have taken his last meaningful snap in a Steelers jersey. Or he could be thrust into action next weekend.
Either way, the Steelers suddenly look good for drafting him. Maybe they got lucky. Maybe they were smart.
What’s it matter?
Joe Starkey co-hosts a show 2 to 6 p.m. weekdays on 93.7 FM. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.