*This is the fourth article in the series.
Jones’ ascension to the top backup spot last season was filled with twists and turns. For the third straight year, he appeared to be a pre-season afterthought, destined to continue his career on the inactive list. Fate intervened, however, when Bruce Gradkowski injured his left ring finger during the second exhibition game against the Packers. He was placed on injured reserve, and the team quickly signed veteran Mike Vick to be Ben Roethlisberger’s backup.
Vick was largely ineffective as a passer and, when he faltered and was subsequently injured in a week six matchup against the Arizona Cardinals, Jones finally got his chance. He made the most of it, tossing two touchdown passes and leading the team to a 25-13 come from behind victory.
For the season, he finished 32 of 55 for 513 yards, three touchdowns and four interceptions. Overall, he performed reasonably well, but when pressed into service in the AFC Wild Card game against the Bengals, Jones appeared overwhelmed. He threw a costly interception late in the game in what arguably should’ve been a Bengals victory. Going forward, it’s reasonable to expect that Jones will continue improving as he’s done throughout his brief career.
At 6’4” and 225 pounds, he’s definitely got the right size. He’s also got a solid arm and the pedigree. At Oklahoma, Jones completed 63.6 percent of his passes for 16,646 yards and 123 TDs.
The scouting report on him before the draft was that he was a prototypical passer with a good arm and accuracy, particularly with regard to the short and intermediate passing game. However, the knock on Jones was his decision making and his ability to play with pressure. According to NFL.com at the time, he “feels pressure when it isn’t there” and that “his tendency to get rattled…is a major issue.”
Chances are that Bruce Gradkowski will be remembered in Pittsburgh mostly for his winning touchdown pass to Louis Murphy with :09 left in a 2009 game that saw his Raiders defeat the heavily favored Steelers. It was a low point for the Steelers and, possibly, the highest point in Gradkowski’s career.
For his career, the Toledo graduate has a 6-14 career record as a starter and has passed for 4,057 yards, 21 touchdowns, and 24 interceptions. He’s always had the reputation as a tough, intelligent, and dependable backup quarterback. He’s never been a Roethlisberger-caliber quarterback, but he’s gutsy enough to win a game or two if called upon at some point. However, Gradkowski’s dependability took a hit last season when he was sidelined for the year. He’s now 33, and just how effective he can be going forward is uncertain.
The Edge Goes To: Jones
Gradkowski has barely played a down of meaningful football since the Steelers signed him prior to the 2013 season. At 27, Landry Jones is younger, and he now has a full year of experience as the backup quarterback, having even started one game last season.
Despite Jones’ unpredictability, he should continue maturing into a decent option should something happen to Ben Roethlisberger. Gradkowski’s been a good player but, barring injury to either Roethlisberger or Jones, is likely to see little or no time in uniform this season.