Wilson: Omar's last stand?

Word out of Latrobe last week was that rookie fifth-round quarterback Omar Jacobs was in real danger of getting the axe. After seeing him in action during Week 1 of the preseason, and more importantly, after seeing Shane Boyd, Blogger Ryan Wilson ain't buying it.

It's Week 3 of training camp and Omar Jacobs is still with the team. After a pretty decent performance in his first preseason game last Saturday, the media have focused on other storylines, making me wonder if this was ever really a story to begin with. Let me see if I've got this right: A 21-year-old (at the time) junior, from a mid-major conference (MAC) leaves school early to enter the NFL draft. After minicamp, OTA's and a handful of practices in Latrobe, he's struggling with: the playbook, getting the team out of the huddle, and running the two-minute drill. Yep, sounds like a rookie to me. The only thing remotely interesting about all of this is that the team might cut him for making … well, rookie mistakes.

But here's the thing: If Omar Jacobs is released, I blame the Pittsburgh Steelers. Going into the draft the team had a very good idea what the depth chart looked like: Ben Roethlisberger, Charlie Batch, and TBD; in that order. That the Steelers drafted a quarterback surprised no one. That it was Omar Jacobs opened a few eyes because he wouldn't be game-ready for a year or two, but apparently, that was the organization's plan all along.

Jacobs played collegiately at Bowling Green, worked primarily from the shotgun, saw time in only 25 games, and most important, was considered pretty raw at quarterback. The Steelers, like every other team in the league knew this, so it wasn't something that caught them by surprise during training camp. And if there was any doubt about him on draft day, there were certainly alternatives (from Jacobs' scouting report):

[Jacobs'] pass completion percentage set a school career-record and ranks second on the MAC record chart behind Bruce Gradkowski (71.2 percent, 2002-2005). His 71 scoring passes established another BGSU all-time record.
Oh right, that Gradkowski kid was still available (he ended up going to the Bucs in the sixth round). There were countless Gradkowski stories in the local papers in the weeks leading up to the draft, and the Steelers were obviously aware of him, but they instead opted for Jacobs. But why? Here's what we heard last week from team sources:
Quarterback Omar Jacobs must improve his grasp of the offense or the fifth-round pick will be cut in favor of Shane Boyd
And here's what the organization said in the days following the draft:
The Steelers drafted Jacobs instead of Toledo's Bruce Gradkowski because they believe he had more potential to improve because he came out early, and he also is nearly 3 inches taller ... "With Bruce, he is a competitor and a great kid," Whipple said. "It was kind of more the size and that extra year. We aren't looking for him to come in and start, obviously."
Hmm. Now I'm confused. The organization liked Jacobs in April because as a junior, he had more potential and they weren't looking for him to come in and start. But in August they're skeptical because he's slow to learn the offense. Yeah, things aren't so obvious now.

So which is it? If the Steelers wanted an experienced game manager who, if needed, could take some snaps this season, they should have gone with Gradkowski. But they didn't because, as Mark Whipple noted above, they realized Jacobs was a project who -- barring injuries -- wouldn't see any playing time in 2006, but had more long-term upside. Fast-forward to August, and Jacobs is so awful the team is thinking about cutting him. For Shane Boyd. That should be Merriam-Webster's new definition of "cutting off your nose to spite your face." No words, just this photo should do. And I'm serious.

I understand that Jacobs' learning curve has been glacial, but again, where's the fire? What's the rush on this if the team has no plans on playing him this season? And if the Cardinals game was any indication of things to come, Boyd will never be NFL-ready. I don't mean to be too down on Boyd, but keeping him over Jacobs makes absolutely no sense. In terms of game-readiness, Gradkowski is probably ahead of them both, and if that's what the team is looking for, why didn't they take the Toledo QB back in April? Oh right, because that wasn't what the team was looking for.

Maybe now the Steelers are quicker to pull the plug on perceived lost draft causes in the wake of the "They took Alonzo Jackson with a what round pick?" debacle, but this is stretching it. And it doesn't even compare to the Fred Gibson fiasco from last year.

(By the way, Freddy G had a pretty nice preseason game with the Dolphins. Granted, it was late in the fourth quarter, so maybe not much has changed, but at least the guy is still in the league. I told my buddy Andy about Gibson's performance, and this was his response: "I'll be pretty pissed if he has a big game against the Steelers in Week 1." Yeah, I wouldn't worry too much about that. Unless the game will be decided by the practice squads, Gibson shouldn't be a factor. And even then, Pittsburgh will be more concerned with stopping New Mexico.)

Gibson was a fourth-round flyer, but the team had big hopes that he could contribute sooner rather than later. Like Jacobs, he struggled to learn the playbook, but unlike the current quarterback position, the wide receiver position had a little more depth last preseason. With Nate Washington's 2005 training camp emergence, Gibson became expendable. Shane Boyd ain't Nate Washington. And Omar Jacobs ain't Fred Gibson.

Since Kevin Colbert's arrival in 2000, the Steelers have arguably gotten more mileage out of their draft picks than any other team in the league. Consequently, it's hard to question any moves the front office makes. But for now, I'm not buying all the sky-is-falling Omar Jacobs talk. Jacobs will make the team out of training camp and be the Steelers' No. 3 quarterback, just like the organization planned when they drafted him in the fifth round. And if he does get cut, somebody should ask Bill Cowher why they even wasted a pick on the kid given what Mark Whipple was quoted as saying in the Post-Gazette on May 3. Then be sure to ask the head coach how he plans to combat the Curse of the Jersey, because that will be the real story of the 2006 Steelers.


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