I can’t think of another team who is more likely to use the back-up quarterback in the regular season than the Steelers. Ben Roethlisberger is one of the toughest quarterbacks in the league today, but defenders get away with more hits against him. Ben tries to extend the play, often outside the pocket. I’m not a penalty expert, but my impression is that he does not get the benefit of calls like Tom Brady gets. Yeah, I come across as bitter and I don’t have proof, but for Pete’s sake, you don’t often see a quarterback have to play with a broken nose these days. Roethlisberger has hung in there and taken some hits and still made great plays. Yet, the price has also been frequent injury. For the last three or four seasons I thought the Steelers were putting the majority of their eggs in the Roethlisberger basket. I’m not saying that Charlie Batch, Byron Leftwich, Dennis Dixon and the other back-ups weren’t doing their part to prepare.
When was the last time Roethlisberger played a full 16-game season? It was in 2008 and, interestingly, it’s his ONLY full season. Wow. Let’s look a little closer at this. From 2004 to 2012, Roethlisberger has several 15-game seasons: 2006, 2007, 2009, and 2011. Ok, I suppose that isn’t too bad. In 2010, he missed 4 games due to the suspension for violating the NFL’s personal conduct policy. In 2006, it’s a wonder he didn’t miss the beginning of the season because of his motorcycle accident 12 weeks prior to the season starting. Instead, he missed the season opener because he was recovering from an appendectomy. If you look at his injury stats, Roethlisberger has played through injury in every season. Yes, many NFL players work through injury during the season, but when it is consistently your quarterback; shouldn’t that put more emphasis on training your backup QBs?
Compared to his peers, Roethlisberger has a pretty long injury sheet. Let’s look at some QB’s who also started in 2004. Eli Manning of the NY Giants and Philip Rivers of the San Diego Chargers have not missed any games due to injury. To be fair, Matt Schaub had some injuries that led to missed games including a concussion in 2007 and a foot injury that put him on the IR in 2011.
Prior to this year, the Steelers could fall back on Charlie Batch who had been with the Steelers consistently from 2005 to 2012. His longevity gave the Steelers a sense of security in the back-up situation even when Batch was listed as the second or third-level back-up. The Steelers also signed Byron Leftwich several times due to his familiarity with the Steelers system not because they really wanted to admit they need to invest in a back-up quarterback. It just seemed like the back-up QB has been an afterthought.
Now, the Steelers seem to be admitting they need to put some attention on the back-up QBs, but any plan won’t be formed until after preseason. Let’s look at who is getting a chance with the Steelers.
Brad Gradkowski has been in the NFL for seven years – two with Tampa Bay, one with Cleveland, two with the Raiders, and two with Cincinnati. He has never played a full season and the season with the most games played came in 2006 with playing 13 games for Tampa Bay. NFL.com lists his career QBR rating as 65.8.
John Parker Wilson has being in the NFL for four years but has never played a regular season game. Wilson started for two years at the University of Alabama and according to www.rolltide.com, he is:
an accurate passer with mobility and composure … has shown the ability to shine in late-game situations, with several game-winning and game-tying fourth-quarter drives in his career … has 16 career 200-yard passing games, setting the all-time career mark at UA …is tied for 13th among all quarterbacks nationally with 26 consecutive starts … Manning Award Watch List member as a junior … named team’s Offensive Achievement Award co-winner in 2007.
As we all know, collegiate successes don’t always translate in the NFL and while Parker may just need a chance, the odds don’t seem to be in his favor after 4 years of no activity.
Landry Jones, selected in the 4th round of the 2013 NFL draft, initially garnered a lot of media attention as a potential Big Ben heir-apparent. Jones seems to have deflected much of that by refusing to take the bait on the questions. According to Soonersports.com, during Jones’ final year at Oklahoma University, he was:
Big 12′s all-time leader in passing yards (16,646) and total offense (16,271) … ranks fifth in the nation in passing yards and passing yards per game … threw for at least 300 yards in six of the last eight games … earned Big 12 Offensive Player of the Week honors after completing 38 of 51 passes (74.5 pct) for a school-record 554 yards and tying his own school record with six touchdown passes at West Virginia.
It’s all nice information but I am not sure the Steelers intend to do much to prepare their backup QBs. At the risk of sounding like a self-help program, first, the Steelers must acknowledge there is a problem. With Roethlisberger on board, to paraphrase the great Mel Brooks: “we don’t need no stinkin’ backups!” As I look back at the situation with Dennis Dixon, I think he never really had a chance. They brought in the quick fix of Byron Leftwich and never put time toward developing Dixon’s skills in the Steeler system. Does the name Brian St. Pierre ring a bell? The plan for the last 8 or so years has been to hope and pray that No 7 doesn’t get hurt. Why change now? It’s work so far, right?