Pittsburgh Steelers: Full Position Breakdown and Depth Chart Analysis at QB
The Pittsburgh Steelers have many question marks entering the 2014 season, but the quarterback position is not one of them. Ben Roethlisberger will be under center yet again, and as long as he is there, the Steelers will have an opportunity to compete not only for a playoff spot, but also for a championship.
Roethlisberger will be entering his 11th season and is still at the top of his game. He had a strong 2013 in which he posted some of the best statistics of his career. A big part of this will be the continued comfort level with offensive coordinator Todd Haley and the expanded use of the no-huddle offense.
Bruce Gradkowski is the clear-cut backup, yet he has never taken a snap for the Steelers. In a rather unusual set of circumstances in Pittsburgh, Roethlisberger played in all 16 games for the second time in his career last season and took every snap for the first time.
Despite his lack of snaps, Gradkowski provides the Steelers with a dependable option behind Roethlisberger until Landry Jones is ready.
Jones had his struggles as a rookie and will need a strong showing in training camp and the preseason to show not only that he is a viable roster player, but also that he has potential as a future backup or even starter. If not, fourth-string quarterback Brendon Kay will provide plenty of competition.
So while the Steelers are set at the top of the depth chart, there will be plenty to watch as Jones and Kay compete for a roster spot.
Quarterback is the most important position on the field and while the Steelers are set at the top of the depth chart, there is plenty of work to do at the bottom as they try to develop a young backup option. Here is a look at the current quarterback depth chart for the Steelers.
Starter: Ben Roethlisberger
Ben Roethlisberger has been the best quarterback in Pittsburgh since Terry Bradshaw, and like Bradshaw, Roethlisberger would like to finish his career with the Steelers.
A long-term contract may come later this summer, but until then he will look to take charge of the offense, as it will need to carry the team this season.
Unlike previous years, the Steelers defense was unable to keep the team competitive on a weekly basis last season. Typically at the top of the league in points allowed, Pittsburgh fell to 14th last season, according to NFL.com. Instead, it will be the offense that has to step up to the plate, and Roethlisberger will be the key factor here.
Roethlisberger has to continue to command the offense not only as the quarterback, but also as a leader. Head coach Mike Tomlin told Ed Bouchette of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette at the end of the 2013 season that he was pleased with how his quarterback handled himself.
"He did a great job of it this year, obviously, and not only in terms of his input but his leadership. We've got a bunch of young guys. I really thought he answered the bell for us in a big way," Tomlin said.
It will be more of the same this year, as there has been an influx of new offensive weapons this offseason. Emmanuel Sanders and Jerricho Cotchery departed via free agency, and the Steelers added Lance Moore, Darrius Heyward-Bey and Martavis Bryant to replace them.
Earlier this offseason, Roethlisberger anticipated the roster turnover, as he brought Markus Wheaton, Derek Moye and Justin Brown to California to train, according to Ray Fittipaldo of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.
Getting the new and young players up to speed will be an important factor in how much the Steelers run the no-huddle offense this year, according to what Roethlisberger told reporters following the team's first OTA practice.
"We'll see. I think a lot of it is going to determine how much can the new guys and the young guys learn. We lost two starting wide receivers that knew the offense and knew the no-huddle really well, so for us to use it we're going to need the young guys and the new guys to pick it up quick," Roethlisberger said.
Even if the no-huddle is not a major portion of the scheme early in the season, the players must get up to speed if Roethlisberger is going to replicate his 4,261 yards and 28 touchdowns next season.
The offense may experience some growing pains along the way, but with Roethlisberger at the helm, it won't be long before it clicks and becomes as productive as it was at the end of last season.
Backup: Bruce Gradkowski
Rarely—no, scratch that—never does a backup quarterback in Pittsburgh go a season without taking a snap, but that is exactly what happened with Bruce Gradkowski last season.
He spent the entire 2013 season on the bench, as Roethlisberger did not miss a snap—and no one is complaining. In fact, Gradkowski has been out of the news so much that his last updated news story from Rotoworld came on March 13, 2013.
Gradkowski may best be remembered in Pittsburgh for his three-touchdown performance in 2009 at Heinz Field. He helped lead the Oakland Raiders to a comeback win and sent the Steelers to a fourth consecutive loss.
With nine seconds remaining in the game, Gradkowski threw an 11-yard touchdown pass to Louis Murphy. It was a high point for his career and the last season in which he saw significant action.
After starting 20 games over the first five seasons of his career, Gradkowski has no starts over his last three and only 29 passes during this time.
Gradkowski's only experience in Pittsburgh has come in the preseason. Last year he completed 19 of 37 passes for 210 yards and one touchdown and was sacked five times, according to NFL.com.
Though he may not have Roethlisberger's arm strength or accuracy (he has never completed 55 percent of his passes in a season), he is a better backup option than the Steelers have had in recent years. He is quick on his feet and has a way to make a play when it appears as though nothing is there.
The Steelers may have some problems if Gradkowski has to step in for an extended period of time, but for a few snaps or a game here and there, he has enough to get the job done and keep the Steelers competitive.
3rd String: Landry Jones
Landry Jones is one of the Steelers' most maligned draft picks in recent years. They had just signed Bruce Gradkowski to play second string, and Ben Roethlisberger has another five or so years of high-level football left in him.
Many fans will also bring up the fact that the Steelers traded away a 2014 third-round pick for a fourth-round pick in the 2013 draft to select Shamarko Thomas. Instead, they could have risked waiting four spots and selected Thomas in the slot in which they used to take Jones.
But what is done is done, and Jones is a part of the Steelers now. In order to justify the selection, he must show much more than he did as a rookie.
Jones had a disappointing arm in training camp and lacked accuracy. A knock on him coming out of college was that he struggled when under pressure and may have been a product of the offensive system, and he did little to show otherwise.
According to NFL.com, Jones threw for 348 yards and two touchdowns during the preseason. However, he only completed 45.5 percent of his passes, threw three interceptions, was sacked twice and had a quarterback rating of just 53.1.
After a full year with the Steelers, it should be expected that Jones is much better this year. He should have a better understanding of the offense, and the game should move slower for him. An offseason's worth of strength training should have also resulted in improved arm strength.
This is a necessity, because he did not have an NFL arm last year. If he improves, at 6'3" and 221 pounds, Jones has the perfect size to play quarterback in the NFL.
But with that said, if the Steelers did not invest such a high draft choice in him, Jones could have been cut prior to the start of the season last year. He will have to prove himself as a capable NFL quarterback if he wants to make the final roster for a second straight season.
4th String: Brendon Kay
At 6'4" and 228 pounds, Brendon Kay has the prototypical size for a pocket passer and should provide a strong push for Landry Jones as they both compete for the third-string job.
According to Dan Bugler of NFLDraftScout.com, Kay has NFL potential. Here is what he had to say:
"A tall, strong-armed passer, Kay tends to be erratic and it rarely looks pretty, but he has the tools and showed enough improvements to warrant consideration as a developmental option."
Kay followed up a solid college season with an impressive pro day, according to Paul Costanzo of The Times Herald. He had an unofficial 40-yard dash time of 4.63 seconds and threw the ball well. He also had a very strong performance in the vertical and broad jump, which would have placed him among the best at the combine.
Kay must have caught the Steelers' eye, as they signed him following the draft, and he has already impressed, according to Mark Kaboly of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review:
Rookie quarterback Brendon Kay is quite accurate. Dare I say more accurate than Landry Jones was all of last year?— Mark Kaboly (@MarkKaboly_Trib) May 16, 2014
Accuracy is huge for a young quarterback, and if Kay can prove that he is better than Jones in this area, it may be enough to earn him a roster spot.
Though a fourth-string quarterback in Pittsburgh is typically just in camp as an extra arm, Kay will have a legitimate chance to push Jones off the roster. If nothing else, he will provide plenty of competition and will be one to watch.