Landry Jones Drafted by the Pittsburgh Steelers. Mandatory Credit: Matthew Emmons-USA TODAY Sports

Grooming for Greatness: Do the Steelers Competently Develop for a Competive Future?

Want to get me going on a Monday morning (highly caffeinated, or not)?  Feel like pressing my buttons, setting me off on rants and tangents? Yeah? Then, ask me how I feel about the Steelers commitment or competency of late in developing our own talent, a literal foundational hallmark of this Organization since 1970.  Long ago, I drank the Steelers kool-aid on how we run our business; it’s the best run organization in the NFL, and one of the best in all of professional sports for this very reason – Draft and Develop.  Six, yes count them, six Lombardi Trophies are in large part a testimony to this approach.  Typically, I have granted license to the Steeler brass that they know best, and in Colbert & Company I trust.  But are the Pittsburgh Steelers as an organization now failing in our time honored ability, and uber-winning formula, to Draft and Develop?

For years now, Pittsburgh has limped along when Ben Roethlisberger has been knocked out of games.  The Organization seems to refuse to develop a competent Backup Quarterback.  I’m not sure where some fans perspective makes it perfectly fine that when Big Ben Roethlisberger is lost to injury (notice no “if” but “when” – Ben has only played one full season his entire NFL career), we have to rely on Dick LeBeau’s Defense to Win the game, and a dry-rotting quarterback (or two!) as backup to not lose the game.  Had the Steelers as an organization taken the necessary, and seemingly required by any other team in the League, steps towards developing a competent backup, the end results to everyone else’s hard work for several seasons would have been quite different.  Had this happened, Pittsburgh would not have missed the 2012 Playoffs. It was beyond time to draft a competent Quarterback as backup; their eventuality as replacement for Big Ben is irrelevant.

A Quarterback Quandary: Backing Up Big Ben

Let’s sanitize your comments before we get really going with this here: I am, and have been, a big fan of Charlie Batch.  Charlie has been a great teammate and leader in Pittsburgh, and has in fact won us some ball games when we desperately needed his help.  Further, once upon a time I was also more than fine with Byron Leftwich as our intended go-to guy as a backup quarterback.  But, that was once upon a time; at some point, all fantasy stories for children transform into adult realities, and we grow out of them.  The Pittsburgh Steelers have been spoiled by the ultimate warrior in Ben Roethlisberger, who I would commit to anyone asking is the toughest guy in the NFL.  As such, there seems to be a high degree of complacency in ensuring that when Big Ben goes down, Pittsburgh doesn’t go down with him.  As 2012 showed us live and in Technicolor, we are woefully troubled, crippled and paralyzed by this lack of, or refusal towards, developing a competent Backup Quarterback.  A 2008 selection in Dennis Dixon led to nothing more than the former leading Heisman Trophy candidate taking about as many reps as I have since high school (which would be, none).  For several years we listened to NFL pundits expecting Dixon’s talent potential to be lost to another team, a few of which felt he could likely start for – I’m not sure I buy into a starting role, but Dixon’s skill sets could have been utilized in games and they never were (sans one Monday Night Football game versus the Ravens).

To make matters worse, “developing” a competent backup in this league is in large part, unnecessary.  Enter Brian Hoyer – I am still beyond ability to comment, here publicly or otherwise privately in my own home, in an acceptable and professional manner as to how and why the Steelers wanted Hoyer so badly as backup QB, only to never get him signed while they had him in Pittsburgh last year.  This is one of the most idiotic things I’ve watched us do, literally forcing us into having to “waste” a draft selection on a Quarterback.  Had they competently dealt with this issue by signing Hoyer, it would actually have been totally unnecessary to, and completely validating the argument not to, “waste” invaluable draft picks to finally alleviate an oozing sore at backup quarterback in Steel Town.  Instead, we not only had to use one of the draft picks for a Quarterback, we end up trading away future picks to get one.  Insert, large-fonted text, bold, question marks and exclamation points.

Within the newly constructed CBA, this would give the Steelers 4-5 years to develop a “potential” replacement for Big Ben right about the time we can start expecting this to be not just a plausible issue, but a reality. Further, “grooming” a highly competent QB as backup pays dividends even if this hard to think about topic is actually a reality; as many team’s have smartly used to their advantage, a well-developed quality backup QB can bring worth beyond its weight in gold in trade value with other teams, either for additional picks or in dire emergency, bringing in immediate skills to deal with open issues on the roster.  Translation = drafting developmental quarterbacks brings a high degree of return; either they develop and perform for your own team, or they become exceptional bargaining chips to add additional, needed talent at any given time.

Quite confident that the Steelers would make a quarterback selection this year to finally address the issue, I do want to positively affirm that we actually did do the right thing and draft one.  Second, I could (and at some point probably will) delve into whether the Steelers actually made the “right” choice in Landry Jones.  We have seen well-taken commentary and opinion on the Steelers actually “wasting” a draft pick by even taking one at all.  As much as we’ve needed and wanted a backup quarterback to develop, I never imagined the Steelers would “waste” not merely a pick in this year’s draft, but trade away a valuable 3rd Round pick in 2014 to the Miami Dolphins to do it. For the life of me, I just can’t make sense of trading away picks to take a Landry Jones, when you could have taken a Zac Dysert (as John Elway and his staff did) or a Tyler Bray (what with arguably the strongest arm in the entire draft, who went undrafted). For the price of a phone call to a QB to welcome them to the team, this situation could for the next few years be resolved.  Instead, we went after Landry as if we expect him to Start in a year’s worth of work; trading away 3rd Round Draft picks for a backup quarterback now in the 4th Round (his talent ability aside), is incredulous.

This can be a volatile topic in Steeler Nation, so what does Steeler Nation actually have to say – have the Pittsburgh Steelers competently drafted and developed at the invaluable position of Backup Quarterback?

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