Steelers Waging Battle For QB3

With Bruce Gradkowski hurting, the battle for the No. 3 QB spot behind Ben Roethlisberger takes on greater significance.

There are some things in this world that you can count on, such as the rising sun. It seems there's another essential certainty: If the Pittsburgh Steelers are playing, Ben Roethlisberger will be the quarterback.

But even as solid as the latter assertion might be, someone needs to be on point if No. 7 has to sit. With Bruce Gradkowski’s availability uncertain due to a shoulder issue, Landry Jones and Tajh Boyd are competing for the call.

“I want to go out there and leave a good mark because, if you look at it in this sense, the next four or five weeks could change the rest of your career. You know, starting the rest of your history,” Boyd said.

Read that again. “The REST of your history,” he said.

There's significance in his choice of words, since he was in this exact scenario last season with the New York Jets. According to that particular part of history, things didn’t end well and he was cut before camp closed, but not before putting up a just-ok showing in two preseason games. So this is déjà vu for Boyd, and he's intent on changing the ending this time around.

Where Boyd gives off a sense of do-or-die urgency, Jones is much more laid back. He's clearly intent on holding his place on the roster.

When asked about his chances to stick around for another season, he was even-keeled and practically Zen.

“Oh man. I don’t know. I would hope I’m still here. If I’m not, there is something else out there, you know. So I’m just looking forward to the opportunity I have right now,” Jones said.

This is Jones' third training camp and he has been inactive each game since he game to the Steelers as a fourth-round draft pick in 2013. That could be why it's easier for him to be so calm, but it’s worth noting that he said unequivocally there is nothing in life, aside from maybe great passes and practices or the energy on game day, that gets him excited.

“I’m a pretty steady and easygoing type of guy,” he said with an easy smile.

But turning coaches’ heads and getting reps are both on each man’s mind. With Tyler Murphy and Devin Gardner also getting practice reps, Boyd and Jones are trying to make each time they touch a football something memorable.

Wednesday’s introduction of pads to practice added that distinct and exciting audible crash to the field, but the QBs’ performances? Not close to being distinct or exciting. Both had some acceptable plays, but neither No. 3 hopeful really shined. On Thursday, Jones received most of the reps as Roethlisberger sat out the scrimmages. And Jones received passing grades from Mike Tomlin.

"Thought he had a good day today," Tomlin said. "I thought he did some nice things today with the extra snaps we gave him. That's all you're looking for. When you take the time to give a guy an extra snap or two, you'd like to see him take advantage of it with execution."

That probably wasn't something Jones was bragging about back in his dorm room, which he shares with Boyd.

Boyd thought that pairing might lead to some awkwardness, but both men understand the situation.

“Obviously it’s a competition," said Boyd. "But the main thing I want to do is compete against myself every day. If I’m going out there worried about the next guy, then I lose my focus. So I just want to continue building the coaches’ trust in me and trust from the players beside me by knowing what to do and knowing how to do it. “

Jones, as one might imagine, sees it all as a process of winning some and losing some, but building his game by putting the highs and lows to equally good use.

“You’ll have spots where you are like, “I made a good play.” Then you’ll have those spots where it’s just, like, “Oh my gosh, I can’t believe I friggin’ made that ‘Doh’.”

Boyd’s intensity matched with Landry’s light tone mark the two men as opposites. But the thing they both want is a fairly fought end to this story, whatever that might look like.

“We’re all just doing our job. You want the best for him and his family, and he wants the best thing for me and my family,” Jones said.

“At the end of the day, you really want everybody to be at their best. Because when you win something, you want to have earned it,” said Boyd. “You want winning to be its own reward.”

It remains to be seen if, in spite of each man’s sweat, effort and reps, either of them would ever see any action when the real lights go on. But the battle for No. 3 means something to both men. For Boyd, it’s fighting to reverse his own history. For Jones, it’s a willingness to be open to whatever wave comes next. They are set on making their case, in their own way, one rep at a time.

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