With his main competition for the No. 3 quarterback spot with the Steelers gone, you would think rookie Landry Jones is at ease heading into tonight’s preseason finale.
You would, of course, be wrong.
Though the Steelers released John Parker Wilson on Sunday as part of their roster cut to 75, there’s still another cut to 53 remaining.
And Jones knows that tonight’s game in Carolina will be his final opportunity to make a solid statement.
“(It’s) just letting him play football and seeing how he rides the wave associated with good plays and bad plays and series – things that you don’t get a chance to see often from young guys,” said Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin. “We’ll get a real extended view of him and see how he responds to how the flow of the game goes. It’s a great opportunity for him. We’re excited about it, and I’m sure he is as well.”
Jones has made a nice progression since joining the Steelers as a fourth-round draft pick out of Oklahoma.
Jones struggled early in mini-camp and OTAs as he adjusted to taking snaps under center after spending his entire senior year playing in a shotgun offense at Oklahoma.
But things started clicking in training camp and that carried over to Jones’ play in the preseason, where he has completed 14 of 31 passes for 159 yards and one touchdown. The lone exception was on his first play from scrimmage in the preseason opener when he collided with running back Baron Batch in the end zone while attempting a handoff. The play resulted in a safety.
“I played much better in the second game,” said Jones. “There are still a lot of things I need to work on, but I played better.”
Jones did not get any action in the third preseason game as Tomlin played starter Ben Roethlisberger in the first half before allowing No. 2 quarterback Bruce Gradkowski to finish.
Not playing in the game before the first round of cuts made for some tense moments, especially when Jones knew that either he or Wilson would be released. It’s a far different situation than in college, where the loser of a quarterback battle won’t be cut.
“It’s a huge difference between one guy getting cut and still being there as a backup,” Jones admitted.
“You’re competing for the same spot. Me and J.P. were friendly with each other. When he left, I texted him and we left on good terms. It is a competition, but you also have to realize you have to enjoy being around the people you’re working with.”
The Steelers will likely make their final cuts Friday, meaning this will be the last opportunity for a number of players to win a job.
Tomlin is especially intrigued about watching the battle at linebacker, where the Steelers have seven players battling for three or four backup positions.
“I just made a point to them this morning that it’s less about what they do on defense and more about what they do on special teams,” said Tomlin. “I think we need more consistent above-the-line effort from some of those guys in that regard. I think the ones who distinguish themselves will be the ones who show an aptitude for playmaking and understand the football in that phase.”
For Jones, that means showing that he can continue to build on the improvement he’s made. The Steelers have traditionally kept three quarterbacks on their 53-man roster, and that’s unlikely to change this year.
“Hopefully, I’ll be here,” Jones said. “If I don’t screw anything up, I’ll be here.”
Odds and end zones
Jonathan Dwyer, Felix Jones and LaRod Stephens-Howling will get the majority of the carries at running back. ... Pittsburgh’s starters are not expected to see much, if any, playing time. ... This will be the final opportunity for Drew Butler and Brian Moorman to make a case for being the Steelers’ punter. Butler, the team’s punter last year, is averaging 47.3 yards per punt, but just 33.5 in net average. Moorman is averaging 40.5 yards per punt with a net of 37.9.