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Gorman: Steelers rookie QBs build on their reps

Kevin Gorman
| Saturday, Aug. 19, 2017, 8:00 p.m.
Steelers quarterback Bart Houston lines up behind center during practice Friday, Aug.18, 2017 at Latrobe High School.
Chaz Palla | Tribune-Review
Steelers quarterback Bart Houston lines up behind center during practice Friday, Aug.18, 2017 at Latrobe High School.

As Steelers rookie quarterbacks, Joshua Dobbs and Bart Houston conspire to steal repetitions.

“That's what we call it,” Houston said. “We ‘steal reps,' by focusing on what Big Ben does.”

Dobbs and Houston have been stealing reps in a different way from veteran Landry Jones, who has missed most of training camp with an abdominal injury.

With Roethlisberger sitting out the second preseason game, Dobbs will get another start and Houston will serve as the backup again when the Steelers play the Atlanta Falcons at 4 p.m. Sunday at Heinz Field.

“You're getting more and more comfortable as you get more and more reps,” Dobbs said. “Each rep is an opportunity. You see something different each rep, so you can start to put things together, in terms of protections.

“As reps increase, you start to feel more comfortable. There's nothing more valuable than game reps, so it will be another opportunity to continue to grow on Sunday.”

Steelers coach Mike Tomlin didn't rule out the possibility Dobbs could challenge Jones for the backup job, given what Tomlin has seen from Dobbs in practice and game settings.

“It's really been a tremendous opportunity for him to get some big-time reps and exposure because of the injury to Landry,” Tomlin said. “We'll look forward to him showing growth since his last outing.”

Dobbs overcame two interceptions to complete 8 of 15 passes for 100 yards with a touchdown and a 56.9 QB rating in the 20-12 victory over the N.Y. Giants on Aug. 11 at MetLife Stadium.

“I know it's rare across the league to get a lot of reps, especially as a rookie,” said Dobbs, a fourth-round pick out of Tennessee. “Any reps we can get, whether it's walk-through reps or team reps, we're trying to take advantage of all of those.

“Each rep is an opportunity to see something new, so it's cool to have another guy that you share that experience with and is fighting for as many reps as possible.”

You might think of the NFL preseason as meaningless games, but they mean everything to players trying to make the 53-man roster.

Especially long-shot rookies like Houston, an undrafted free agent from Wisconsin. Houston knows he was brought to training camp at St. Vincent to be the “camp arm,” a fourth quarterback who filled in only when needed.

“Usually, it's the ‘camp arm' and you're just sitting there, from what people told me,” Houston said. “You never wish an injury on anybody, but it has been a tremendous opportunity to just get out here and play just because there's a void to fill.”

Houston is getting significant snaps not only in practices but, now, preseason games. He relieved Dobbs in the third quarter against the Giants, immediately leading the Steelers on a nine-play, 53-yard scoring drive, and finished 2 of 7 passing for 24 yards and a 41.4 QB rating.

“It's been really beneficial,” Tomlin said.

“Oftentimes, a guy in his position gets very little outside of drill work. He's gotten a significant amount of work, not only in practice but in game and really has done a nice job taking advantage of it. I've been impressed with some of the things that he's been able to do.”

Tomlin isn't the only one looking forward to seeing how his young quarterbacks react to the Steelers' stadium atmosphere and game conditions at Heinz Field.

For Houston, it's another chance to play in an NFL stadium — not to mention against a pair of former Concord (Calif.) De La Salle teammates in Falcons running back Terron Ward and tight end Austin Hooper.

Houston is hoping to impress not only the Steelers coaches but to put plays on tape for the rest of the NFL to see, in case he's cut.

For now, he wants to make the most of his opportunity to play for the Steelers in front of their fans at home.

“This will be a lot different,” Houston said. “It's going to be an awesome opportunity. These games don't count for the record, but they're meaningful for everybody who's on the field. Everybody is getting evaluated, just like it if was a real game.

“But this is awesome. It really hasn't hit me, I guess, but every opportunity you have is to show somebody that you can perform at this level, at a high level, rep by rep.”

How they earn their repetitions — and build their reputations — doesn't matter to Dobbs and Houston, as long as they make the most of them.

Kevin Gorman is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at kgorman@tribweb.com or via Twitter @KGorman_Trib.

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