Gradkowski happy to be competing at OTAs

The Steelers participate in Day 5 of the 2016 Organized Team Activities at the UPMC Rooney Sports Complex.

Bruce Gradkowski is still in Landry Jones' ear, but this time around the advice might not necessarily be what Jones needs to hear.

"Now I'm like, 'Landry, stop making those throws I told you to make last year. Landry, seriously, you have a strong arm, force it in there,'" Gradkowski joked this week during OTAs.

Apparently, it's a friendly battle the Steelers have going on to determine Ben Roethlisberger's backup this season.

"He's a good kid and it's a good (quarterbacks) room we have," Gradkowski said. "And Ben, the competitor he is and being that franchise quarterback, that's what's special.

"We just try to follow behind him and keep the train rolling if something happens."

A great deal happened at the position last season, beginning with Gradkowski being lost for the season in the preseason (he was placed on the reserve/injured list on Aug. 25).

The Steelers' response was to sign veteran free agent Mike Vick rather than promote Jones from No. 3 on the depth chart behind Gradkowski and Roethlisberger.

Roethlisberger started the season but wound up missing four games and parts of four others.

And the Steelers wound up winning games started by Roethlisberger, Vick and Jones on the way to an 10-6 regular-season record and a trip to the second round of the playoffs.

"It's just a tribute to (head) Coach (Mike) Tomlin," Gradkowski said. "Coach Tomlin is big on 'next man up,' he's going to give guys opportunity. If you get a chance to play he expects you to do well and execute. And then it trickles down to our other coaches, they give guys opportunities when they get in, good gameplans, good play-calling.

"The team wins games. Being around here we're all spoiled with that franchise quarterback and the special things he does. But when he was down and out it's 'everyone else has to raise their game,' and that's what we did last year."

Gradkowski wound up playing a supporting role in a season that might otherwise have featured him as a prominent contributor had he been healthy and available in his usual backup capacity. 

"It was crazy but it was what it was," he said. "I just tried to deal with what was happening at the moment. I was fortunate enough to hang around, be able to help out any way I could.

"It gave Landry an opportunity to play as a young guy and that's what you look for as a young player. It was tough, of course I want to be out there playing. But you can only worry about what you can control."

Gradkowski never suited up in 2015 but he attended the meetings, traveled with the team and spent game day on the Steelers' sideline.

"I just appreciate Coach Tomlin and (offensive coordinator) Todd (Haley) and (quarterbacks coach) Randy (Fichtner), they wanted me to stick around, almost like an extra eye and ear as a coach," Gradkowski said. "I was fortunate to be able to do that."

He intends to do more this season.

Gradkowski, 33, has been re-signed to compete with Jones for the No. 2 QB position behind Roethlisberger.
That transaction didn't occur until May but for Gradkowski it was worth the wait.

"I let them go through the process," he said. "I'm an older veteran now. At some point they have to see what they're going to do for the long term. But they knew I was around. They knew I was here.

"When it came time we just hooked back up, it worked out.

Well enough that Gradkowski is happy to be back on the field at OTAs and preparing for his 11th NFL campaign. 

"It's good, fun competition," he said. "My career's going to be done sooner than later and (Jones) is still a young guy. So take it day by day, come out here and compete.

"I can still do it. My legs are fresher than ever, arm feels good, just get back out here and have fun.

"I'm excited for the preseason."

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