Pittsburgh Steelers 2012 Training Camp Preview: Quarterbacks
If there is one position that an NFL does not want to have to worry about in training camp, it is at quarterback. With Ben Roethlisberger at the helm, the Pittsburgh Steelers have no worries about who will start and the backup situation is set as well with Byron Leftwich and Charlie Batch.
The only battle that the Steelers' quarterbacks will be in during training camp this year is the battle to learn and execute Todd Haley's offense.
Pittsburgh has one of the deepest group of quarterbacks in the league that is not short on experience. The trio will enter the season with 31 years of combined experience. Roethlisberger leads the way with 113 starts and Leftwich and Batch have combined for 102 starts.
The odd man out appears to be Jerrod Johnson, who will have a difficult time beating out Batch for the third string role. Johnson will use camp to earn a spot on the practice squad where he can continue to develop into a potential backup or third-string caliber quarterback.
Johnson has a huge frame at 6'5" 251 pounds and has the physical tools that are desired in a quarterback. In 2009 while at Texas A&M, he had a stand out season throwing for 3,579 yards and 30 touchdowns with only eight interceptions. In addition, the dual threat quarterback ran for 506 yards and eight touchdowns.
The next year Johnson struggled, completing 56.6 percent of his passes for 14 touchdowns and nine interceptions. He would eventually get benched in favor of Ryan Tannehill.
Johnson will need to show that he still has the potential that helped him to 24 school records and two Big 12 records. The talent is there, but he has to be able to put it together, so Johnson will have to make the most of his limited reps as the fourth stringer in camp and has a likely destination on the practice squad.
With Johnson as the only newcomer, the expectations for the other quarterbacks on the roster are known. That does not mean that there are not items that we can look for once camp begins.
The big question with Roethlisberger is how well he handles Haley's offense. He has been through OTAs and minicamp and now will have to start to put all of it together in training camp.
Pittsburgh will still be a passing offense, but Roethlisberger will have to use Heath Miller and the running backs more. He was effective in this in camp last year, but those options faded once the season began.
Roethlisberger actually may have had his best camp of his career last season. He was extremely sharp with his accuracy and physically appeared to be in the best shape since his rookie season.
He will have to continue to be on his game as Haley figures to dial up the intensity as camp begins as the offense has to begin to prove it can execute the new scheme.
The quarterback- coach dynamic will be interesting to watch as Haley will bring a different coaching style than Bruce Arians, and that may not be a bad thing.
In addition to running the new offense, Roethlisberger will have to have to take on a greater leadership role now that all-time great wide receiver Hines Ward is retired.
Ward was key in helping to develop the young receivers on the roster and acted as another coach on the field. While the Steelers' coaches are excellent, the lessons learned from the crafty veteran were invaluable and Roethlisberger will have to be more involved in communicating expectations on routes to the receiving corps.
Roethlisberger should have no issues with this role, but it is certainly worth watching how it plays out and how he helps implement the new scheme.
Behind Roethlisberger is Leftwich and the biggest issue with him is whether or not he can stay healthy.
After missing last season with a broken left arm, Leftwich's return provides the Steelers with a quality veteran backup with a strong arm and plenty of experience.
As with Roethlisberger, it will be important to see how Leftwich picks up the offense as the odds of him playing at some point this season are pretty good with Roethlisberger only starting 16 games once in his career.
Another area of Leftwich's game to watch is the touch he puts on his passes and how quickly he can get rid of the ball.
It seems as though the Steelers' will have shorter developing plays than last season, and Leftwich is notorious for his long windup. That is an area of his game that is unlikely to improve at this point of his career, but it is worth noting and watching how the timing is when he is under center.
The other concern is whether or not Leftwich can put enough touch on the ball when using his backs as receivers. His arm strength is incredible and he can put some serious velocity on his passes. That is an excellent trait when trying to squeeze a pass between two defenders, but a problem when dumping it off to a back.
At the third spot on the quarterback depth chart is Batch.
He just keeps coming back, but has been effective when called upon. However, at some point age will get the best of Batch and it could possibly be this season.
Batch is surprisingly mobile for a 37-year old and that has helped him playing behind the Steelers' offensive line as of late. That may not be much of an issue this season as the line appears to be improved.
That leaves Batch's arm strength as the biggest thing to observe. Can he still make all of the throws? Will defensive backs be able to jump a pass for an interception? So far he has proven that he can still play in the league and odds are he still has it at least for one more year.
With that, the Steelers' quarterbacks are set and that is a good thing in a quarterback driven league. This veteran group will help ensure that Pittsburgh is competitive in 2012.
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