In 2013, Ben Roethlisberger was able to do something he had only done once over his 10 seasons with the Pittsburgh Steelers — start the entire 16-game schedule.
In fact, the Steelers 2008 championship team was one of those two seasons where Roethlisberger was healthy for an entire season, so clearly having Big Ben on the field is critical to the team’s success in 2014.
Obviously, the value of having a franchise quarterback can’t be understated. Ask fans in places like Oakland, Tampa Bay or Cleveland. Roethlisberger is certainly one of the most important and decorated quarterbacks in the league. To emphasize, Roethlisberger joins Tom Brady and Eli Manning as the only QB’s currently in the NFL that have led their teams to multiple Super Bowl championships.
However, throughout much of Roethlisberger’s career, injuries have caused him to miss games. The Steelers were fortunate to have some quality back ups along the way, including Tommy Maddox, Byron Leftwich and most recently, hometown hero Charlie Batch.
Last season, the Steelers began the process of finding adequate back up options by bringing in another local product, Bruce Gradkowski, and drafting former University of Oklahoma standout Landry Jones. The Steelers, as noted, were fortunate, and with Roethlisberger healthy the entire 2013 season, neither Gradkowski or Jones were pressed into duty.
The question now is, can Gradkowksi or Jones step in and do the job if Roethlisberger gets hurt?
As of today, it seems clear that Gradkowski is the backup. The 31-year-old veteran has had stints in Tampa Bay, Oakland, Cleveland and Cincinnati over his eight-year career, and has started a total of 20 games during that span.
The numbers during that span are not great. In those 20 starts, Gradkowski has a 6-14 record, and for his career, he has a 52.9 completion percentage, 21 touchdown passes and 24 interceptions. His quarterback rating is 65.8.
Though Gradkowski shares the same Pittsburgh roots as his predecessor Batch, it’s fair to say he has not shared the same success on the field. Whether or not Gradkowski is capable of stepping in for Roethlisberger in a similar fashion as Batch did in recent years is certainly up for debate, but it seems that the Steelers would be happy to see Jones take a big step towards the backup role this training camp.
For Jones, the reality is a poor showing in the preseason as a rookie and reports that he has not looked sharp thus far in his second season may mean trouble for the 2013 fourth rounder. Accuracy issues have dogged Jones, evidenced by the 45.5 completion percentage and a QB rating of just 53.1 in his game appearances last preseason.
Many rookies struggle, but indications are that Jones seems to still be struggling with finding his targets again this season. Jones played in a much different system at Oklahoma and the transition from the spread offense to the Steelers attack has been a major issue to this point.
Whether or not Jones can find the accuracy that enabled him to have a completion percentage nearing 70 percent is still to be determined, but the pressure is certainly on for marked improvement in year two. Otherwise, the Steelers will have to consider addressing the position via free agency or draft after this season.
Regardless, as of now it does not look like the Steelers have a backup quarterback the quality of Batch at the moment. The hope is Roethlisberger can stay on the field, or that Gradkowksi can fill in admirably in the short term if pressed into duty.