The Tribune Democrat, Johnstown, PA

Sports

May 7, 2013

Steelers rookie not focused on future

PITTSBURGH — The idea is so preposterous, at least to Landry Jones, he couldn’t help but laugh.

Asked if he sees himself one day replacing Ben Roethlisberger, the Pittsburgh Steelers rookie quarterback smiles and shakes his head.

“I have no idea,” Jones said. “You might want to talk to the coaches or Mr. Rooney on that one, what they want to do. I’m just here to learn football. They give me an opportunity to come play.”

Even if the opportunity to do it when it counts won’t come for years, if it comes at all, in Pittsburgh.

General Manager Kevin Colbert and coach Mike Tomlin insist the team did not draft Jones as the quarterback of the future, but spent a fourth-round pick on the former Oklahoma star to provide a youth movement of sorts at a position in need of fresh blood.

Pittsburgh already addressed its primary backup spot when it signed Dormont native Bruce Gradkowski to a contract earlier in the offseason. Rather than bring back 38-year-old Charlie Batch for another fall, the Steelers brought in the 23-year-old Jones, whose eye-popping college numbers and experience with Oklahoma’s pro-style offense should lessen the learning curve.

Jones, who is named after Hall of Fame coach Tom Landry, is the highest quarterback selected by Pittsburgh since it grabbed Roethlisberger in the first round of the 2004 draft. Roethlisberger started almost immediately and led the Steelers to a 15-1 record.

The only way Jones plays in 2013 is if disaster strikes. And while it seems Roethlisberger has been around forever, the two-time Super Bowl winner turned 31 in March and could easily play for the better part of another decade before the Steelers need to get serious about a successor.

Maybe Jones will be around then. Maybe not. A prospect Jones insists doesn’t bother him at all.

Two weeks ago, he was a draft prospect wondering when his name would get called. A few days after that, he was throwing passes with Tomlin while offensive coordinator Todd Haley was looking over his shoulder trying to get a better handle on what they’ve got on their hands.

“It’s definitely surreal,” Jones said.

And certainly a change in responsibility for a guy who spent the last four years as the entrenched starter at one of the nation’s premier programs. Jones passed for 16,646 yards and 123 touchdowns while starting 50 of 52 games for the Sooners. He’d been Oklahoma’s unquestioned leader since Heisman Trophy winner Sam Bradford left the 2009 season-opener against BYU with a busted shoulder.

Now he’s just the guy behind the guy behind the guy.

“It’s just different,” Jones said. “You’ve been in these situations before so it’s not like too too different for me. Obviously, you want to come out here and compete.”

Though there will certainly be no competition for the starting job anytime soon. Jones spent his first weekend as a pro working out with 40 other rookies and first-year players during a minicamp for newcomers. Despite having the playbook in his hands for a day or two, Jones handled himself well despite the new voices in his ear. On nearly every play a member of the Pittsburgh offensive staff – typically Haley – would give Jones suggestions on where to go with the ball.

That didn’t happen too much during his final days with the Sooners.

“You’re just trying to remember the plays, remember where people are going,” he said. “You have a lot of information thrown at you.”

It’s only going to get worse. Jones estimated the notebook given to him by Haley is about the size of the one he worked with at Oklahoma. The difference? The notebook in Pittsburgh will get bigger over the next eight months.

Still, Jones did enough in a helmet, a jersey and shorts to give Tomlin a sense of ease.

“I like his attitude,” Tomlin said. “He’s a good communicator, he’s a sharp guy in the classroom, but like all the others, he’s at the very beginning of his journey.”

Notes: The Steelers signed veteran free agent offensive tackle Guy Whimper on Monday. Whimper spent 2012 with the Jacksonville Jaguars. He was originally drafted by the New York Giants in 2006 and has started 22 games in his career. ... The Steelers also signed undrafted rookie free agent linebacker Terence Garvin to a contract.

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