How Should the Pittsburgh Steelers Address the Backup Quarterback Position?

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How Should the Pittsburgh Steelers Address the Backup Quarterback Position?
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Nine years ago the Pittsburgh Steelers had a franchise defining moment when they selected Ben Roethlisberger in the first round of the 2004 draft.

Roethlisberger has led the Steelers to their best decade of football since the 1970s and has them in competition to win a championship nearly every year.

However, when he is not on the field, the Steelers are a much different team. This has particularly been evident over the past two seasons when injuries to Roethlisberger essentially ended the Steelers’ season all too soon.

Last year, an injury to Roethlisberger’s ankle helped contribute to an early playoff exit while injuries to his ribs and shoulders ultimately led to a missed playoff performance this past season. The Steelers can win without Roethlisberger in the lineup, but it has proven to be difficult.

This past season, Byron Leftwich and Charlie Batch left a lot to be desired in their appearances, leading many to believe that the Steelers need to go in a new direction at the backup quarterback positions.

Here are some directions that the Steelers can go when addressing the second and third string quarterbacks this year.

Jared Wickerham/Getty Images
Bruce Gradkowski is one free agent option for the Steelers. His gritty style of play and toughness fit Pittsburgh's offense well.

 

Free Agency

Free agency would provide the Steelers with the quickest fix to their problems at backup quarterback. Not only could the Steelers get younger, but also find a more dependable option than Leftwich or Batch.

With an offensive line that is always in flux, having a durable quarterback is of utmost importance for the Steelers. There will be plenty of options that the Steelers can explore once free agency starts.

The Steelers have already claimed John Parker Wilson from the Jacksonville Jaguars off of waivers, but he will compete for the third-string role at best. They will have to do better.

There are a number of veteran quarterbacks with starting experience who may draw some interest from the Steelers, but they may not be as likely to sign.

These quarterbacks include Jason Campbell, Donovan McNabb, David Garrard, Brady Quinn, Vince Young, Rex Grossman, Derek Anderson and J.P. Losman as well as a few others.

Campbell is the most intriguing name from the bunch and would provide the best option given the success he has had and his age. But he will likely have better opportunities elsewhere and would probably cost more than what the Steelers want to pay.

As far as less experienced options, the Steelers could look at Drew Stanton, Chase Daniel and Seneca Wallace.

These quarterbacks are fairly young and are fairly mobile in the pocket. Their long-term backup potential makes them better options than an older veteran.

Another name who could be a good fit is Bruce Gradkowski. He is a local player who has had success playing a backup role. He is a hard-nosed player who would fit in well with what the Steelers are all about.

If the Steelers decide to sign a free agent, it will have to be a cheaper option considering they have limited cap room and need money to spend on Keenan Lewis and their draft class.

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Zac Dysert is a viable late-round option to compete for the backup role.

 

The Draft

With so many needs, the Steelers are not in position to spend an early pick on a developmental quarterback, but they may choose to select one in the back half of the draft.

Do not expect the Steelers to select a quarterback anytime before the fifth round considering they can get impact players at positions of need before then. As a result, many of the quality mid-round prospects will already be off of the draft board—including E.J. Manuel, who would be a perfect developmental quarterback behind Roethlisberger.

Instead, the Steelers will be limited to quarterbacks such as Zac Dysert, Landry Jones, Matt Scott and Alex Carder, assuming that none of them rise prior to April’s draft.

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At best, any rookie quarterback would be a third stringer this upcoming season meaning that the Steelers would still need to sign a veteran to play ahead of him.

But if the Steelers go with a rookie, Dysert or Carder would be the best bets.

Scott has too much potential to fall in the draft and Jones will likely go earlier than the fifth round as well. That leaves the Steelers with a very limited selection of quarterbacks.

Dysert comes from Miami of Ohio as Roethlisberger did, but he does not have the skill set that the Steelers franchise signal caller possesses. But he does have exactly what you’d look for in a backup quarterback.

He has good size and plenty of starting experience at the college level.  Dysert also has a pretty good arm and can throw on the run, but will need to work on his accuracy as he transitions into the NFL.

Carder is another prospect that the Steelers should consider in one of the final two rounds.

Carder had a great start to his college career as a prolific passer, but missed time with an injury his senior year and has limited upside as an NFL quarterback, with his arm strength being one of his weaker points.

This could be a positive for the Steelers as they could grab a developmental backup quarterback late in the draft as they focus on other needs earlier.

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Charlie Batch led the Steelers to a big win over the Baltimore Ravens last season and deserves another opportunity to make the roster.

 

Status Quo

Maybe the most probable solution is for the Steelers to maintain status quo and re-sign both Batch and Leftwich.

These two quarterbacks have been good enough for the Steelers and they may stick with the two veterans once again this year.

Not only should Batch and Leftwich come cheap, but they are familiar with the Steelers system and would not need the learning curve that any outside quarterback would need. However, there are several negatives.

Batch and Leftwich are not exactly durable meaning that at any given moment, the Steelers could be down to one quarterback given how fragile their quarterbacks are.

Batch usually needs at least one week to warm up, but after that he is a solid option, as demonstrated last season. He is still fairly mobile in the pocket and has decent arm strength for his age. He is a dependable option and should be re-signed regardless of any other move that the Steelers make.

The bigger question will be whether or not the Steelers should keep Leftwich.

Leftwich is younger and has a stronger arm, but his elongated delivery can be detrimental when he’s under pressure and he never puts touch on the ball. Normally that wouldn’t be much of a problem, but when the receivers have trouble holding onto the ball, it is a major problem.

Besides this, Leftwich is a statue in the pocket and is just a sitting duck behind the porous offensive line. The Steelers can do better.

The best solution would be for the Steelers to re-sign Batch and find another veteran quarterback in free agency to compete with him for the backup job.

Given the average quarterback class this year, the Steelers should wait until after the draft to find a developmental prospect they can place on their practice squad to develop this year with the goal to take over as third stringer next season.

The backup quarterback position is an area that must be upgraded and the best way to do that is by adding a free agent.

 

 

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