The position of quarterback for the Steelers isn’t filled with uncertainty as they prepare for yet another training camp in Latrobe, Pa. But that’s OK, because, when a team employees a two-time Super Bowl-winning passer the caliber of a Ben Roethlisberger, uncertainty isn’t something the front office probably wants to see as part of a position preview.
But the position is always a compelling one, and even the battle for the third string job normally captivates the fans, with a few weeks of training camp and four preseason games acting as very public job interviews.
So, with that in mind, let’s preview the men who will be barking the signals, taking control of their huddles and (hopefully) assuring their coaches, teammates and fans that they have what it takes to lead the Steelers’ offense in 2014.
Despite it being his 10th season in the NFL, 2013 was the first one in which Roethlisberger played in every game. Early on, the thought of Roethlisberger finishing the year upright and healthy looked almost impossible as he was sacked 31 times over the first eight games. The protection problems were mostly the result of an offensive line that was searching to find its way after the season ending knee injury to Pro Bowl center Maurkice Pouncey in Week 1 and the struggles of left tackle Mike Adams in September.
Whether it was due to the constant pressure he was under, or because he was still trying to grasp second year OC Todd Haley’s offense, Roethlisberger struggled mightily over the first two months, throwing only seven touchdown passes to six INTs.
Haley allowed Roethlisberger more freedom with regards to using a no-huddle attack later in the year. This new approach (along with an improved line, thanks to the emergence of Kelvin Beachum at left tackle) resulted in 21 touchdown passes to only eight INTs over the last nine weeks, as the offense averaged 28 points a game, and the team narrowly missed the playoffs after starting out 2-6.
With the free agent departures of familiar receiving options in Emmanuel Sanders and Jerricho Cotchery, and with some new faces to take their place in guys like veteran Lance Moore and rookie Martavis Bryant, one could assume that the no-huddle might have to take a backseat in 2014.
But the recent emphasis on the no-huddle in OTA sessions perhaps indicates an eagerness to use the attack just as much if not more in the upcoming season.
If that is the case (and if the offensive line builds on its second half momentum from a year ago), Roethlisberger, 32, could be poised for his best season in 2014.
The Pittsburgh-area native signed with the Steelers as an unrestricted free agent prior to the 2013 season. Gradkowski, 31, is a nine-year veteran who played for four different teams and started 20 games before landing in Pittsburgh.
Gradkowski’s record as a starter isn’t impressive (6-14), neither are his lifetime stats that include 21 touchdown passes to 24 picks. However, he achieved those numbers while playing for some pretty bad teams in Tampa, Cleveland and Oakland.
Like any second string quarterback in an era where franchise QBs are more important than ever, if something were to happen to Roethlisberger, long-term, the Steelers would probably be in trouble. However, if Gradkowski had to take the reins for a game or three, the team should be in more than capable hands.