This is the first in a series examining the Steelers' roster on a position-by-position basis as we count down the days to the opening of the team's 2015 training camp at Saint Vincent College.
Coach Mike Tomlin has proclaimed himself a three-quarterback guy, and when it comes to this position at training camp the only drama is going to be whether he remains a three-quarterback guy, and then if he does, who will emerge as No. 3.
Aside from that, there is absolutely nothing happening at the top of this unit's depth chart. Ben Roethlisberger had a fine offseason, and with his new five-year contract in place he can have nothing on his mind except the business of winning football games and more championships.
Because Bruce Gradkowski is secure in his role as Roethlisberger's backup, there will be little to see at camp as far as the top of the quarterback depth chart. Clearly, there is no realistic scenario that could unfold at camp – with the exception of change mandated by injuries – where Roethlisberger and Gradkowski emerge as anything except Nos. 1-2 on the depth chart for the start of the regular season.
At No. 3, now that's where it could get interesting.
Landry Jones will be attending his third professional training camp, and it remains to be seen whether he can graduate to showing he deserves a spot on an NFL roster as opposed to being awarded one based on the position he plays.
"He has been a little up and down, but he's working hard," said offensive coordinator Todd Haley as OTAs were ending back in June. "That's a tough spot to be in, being the third guy. He's been thrust into getting more reps with Bruce Gradkowski being out (for some of the offseason program), so he has to take advantage of the opportunity."
Through two preseasons of opportunities, Jones has completed 51.8 percent of his passes for 572 yards, with two touchdowns and four interceptions for a rating of 57.8. None of those numbers are good enough for someone wanting a job as an NFL quarterback, and so Jones goes into his third NFL season still having things to prove.
"This is an important year for me and my career," Jones told a reporter during minicamp. "It's also important for my future on this team. I need to go out there and prove I'm capable of making plays. The game is starting to slow down a little bit for me. It used to feel as if bodies were flying around me that rookie year. So, I've definitely gotten used to the speed of the game.
"I'm more comfortable with the offense. I'm recognizing things more, and I'm more confident in where I'm going with the football. There were some timing throws I wasn't as comfortable with (before) as I am now."
It has been theorized that Jones' path to a job in the NFL was going to come from some combination of recognition and making correct decisions quickly on where to throw the football, because his arm strength isn't difference-making.
The rest of the competition for the No. 3 quarterback job will come from first-year player Tajh Boyd, plus undrafted rookies Devon Gardner and Tyler Murphy, both of whom worked at the quarterback and wide receiver positions throughout the offseason program.
Boyd is a prime example of the differences between the way the position is played in college and the way NFL teams demand it be played in the pros. At Clemson, Boyd was a three-year starter who was voted first-team All-America, and ACC Player of the Year. He set an ACC record for touchdown passes, and he was voted MVP in a bowl game. But all of that came from a read-option offense, and as a sixth-round draft pick of the New York Jets in 2014, Boyd had to learn everything, down to how to call a play in the huddle
The Gardner-Murphy thing during the offseason had the feel of an experiment, because neither of those players was considered a quarterback by NFL scouts during the run-up to the draft. Gardner is intriguing because of his size – 6-foot-4, 216 pounds – and scouts are impressed with his grasp of receiver techniques and ability to implement them during on-field drills.
Even when Murphy was playing quarterback at Florida and Boston College during his two-stop college career, he was more of a runner/playmaker than the kind of guy who displayed the skills the NFL demands at the position. As the starting quarterback for Boston College in 2014, Murphy engineered an upset of ninth-ranked USC but he did it by rushing for 191 yards.
"Coach Tomlin's plan is that we have a couple of dual-position guys, and we are trying to get them enough reps at both spots," said Haley. "I think you will just see a rotation continue. But again, that's up to Coach Tomlin."
As is whether to keep three quarterbacks on the opening 53-man roster.
TOMORROW: Running backs