Pittsburgh Steelers turn to Bryn Renner with opportunity to win No. 3 QB job

Bryn Renner's going back home to Charlotte as the Steelers' primary quarterback Thursday night

PITTSBURGH -- As a coach's son, Bryn Renner proudly says, "coaching is in my blood."

But so is playing. And when the Pittsburgh Steelers called Renner, he didn't hesitate to leave his job as quarterbacks coach at Austin Peay University for a fifth shot in the NFL.

"It's once-in-a-lifetime thing," he said.

And so he said goodbye to coaching.

For now.

"Bouncing both careers," is how he put it, and that's why Renner knows that Thursday night's audition -- in which he'll play the majority of the game as the Steelers quarterback -- isn't a life-or-death situation for him.

If -- and eventually when -- this doesn't work out, he'll just go back to coaching.

But there's something else at stake Thursday night.

"It's not just my performance," said the 6-3, 225-pounder, "but also the others around me to try to make the 53, and also the 63 for the practice squad."

Renner might start Thursday night in the Steelers' preseason finale at Carolina, where he'll enjoy the added intrigue of playing in his current hometown of Charlotte.

But on offense he'll be surrounded by players fighting for their professional lives. Renner took the opportunity this weekend to call them together.

"I told them, 'You know? We're playing for each other out there because we're all fighting for a spot,'" Renner said. "I've been in this situation the last two years, trying to make a team, so I understand the pressure that's going to come with Thursday."

Renner's on his fifth team since coming out of North Carolina and he has an opportunity to claim the open No. 3 QB spot with the Steelers. To that end, he's been helped by the injured No. 3, Bruce Gradkowski, in cramming for Thursday night's test.

Renner was signed last week and appeared in the game at New Orleans. He entered in the middle of the fourth quarter for the final three series. He didn't pass, was sacked the only time he dropped back, but executed well enough for the Steelers to add three points during his time. It was a basic performance befitting a player who stood in the backdrop as the Steelers prepared their top two quarterbacks for the "dress rehearsal."

But this week has been different. This has been a busy cram session for Renner.

"I think I've done a pretty good job of getting a handle on the offense," he said. "I think (QB coach) Randy (Fichtner) and Coach (Todd) Haley and Bruce and all the quarterbacks have done a really good job of helping me with my questions and speeding the process up for me."

He's done it before.

After starting 34 games at UNC, and completing 67 percent of his college passes, Renner injured his shoulder as a senior and went undrafted in 2014. He signed with the Denver Broncos following the draft but was released in late August. He finished 2014 in the Arena League before signing with the Baltimore Ravens in January, 2015.

He made the Ravens practice squad, was released, re-signed and promoted to the active roster for a few days in December before they signed Ryan Mallet.

Renner finished 2015 on the Tennessee Titans practice squad before signing with the San Diego Chargers in March of this year. They released him in May and here he is taking his fifth "cram session."

"The concepts are pretty much the same around the league so it's like learning a new language," Renner said. "Getting in and out of the huddle without penalties, that's what I was proud of myself when I went in the game on (Friday). We didn't have any false starts. We were a little bit in the haze but we got that out of the way and are ready for Thursday."

He's the son of a coach, Bill Renner, who punted for two years for the Green Bay Packers as he began coaching at West Springfield High School in Northern Virginia. Bill also coached in North Carolina and recently retired after 33 years in the profession.

Bryn (pronounced Brin) now has the fever and realizes that each new team adds another layer to his knowledge.

"I love coaching," Renner said. "Being at the professional level, that's almost like getting your Masters. You're learning from the best people in the world doing their job. And the franchises I've been with have won Super Bowls and I've been around coaches who've been in Super Bowls and how they prepare, and so I'm just being a sponge, bouncing both careers. Obviously I want to continue being a player but I know that's a limited time. Whatever happens I'm going to put my best foot forward in either regard."

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