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Steel Mill A.M.: Get to know Bart Houston, the Steelers' 'other' rookie QB

Chris Adamski
| Thursday, Aug. 10, 2017, 10:24 a.m.
Steelers quarterback Bart Houston during practice Wednesday, Aug. 9, 2017 at St. Vincent College.
Chaz Palla | Tribune-Review
Steelers quarterback Bart Houston during practice Wednesday, Aug. 9, 2017 at St. Vincent College.

He's the other rookie quarterback who will play in the Steelers' preseason opener.

Bart Houston still is working to perfect his knowledge of the offense. But at least an old friend of his who's familiar with Pittsburgh gave him a good recommendation for a good bite to eat.

“Coach (Paul) Chryst, when I was coming here, the advice he gave me was, ‘Take some notecards and soak up as much (of the playbook) as you can,' ” Houston said, “‘and then go to Cupka's. It's a solid joint to get a good burger.' ”

Houston was recruited to Wisconsin by then-Badgers offensive coordinator Chryst — but Chryst left to become the head coach at Pitt before Houston enrolled. Chryst, of course, took the head job at his alma mater three years later and was Houston's head coach for his final two college seasons at Wisconsin.

The redshirt has helped contribute to Houston being a 24-year-old rookie (for example, he's almost exactly four years older than fellow rookie second-round pick JuJu Smith-Schuster). But while Houston might be an old rookie, he's still a rookie — and he's one who will have to take charge in the huddle at some point Friday night when the Steelers open the preseason in New Jersey against the New York Giants.

Coach Mike Tomlin said starter Ben Roethlisberger will not play, and No. 2 quarterback Landry Jones is out with an abdominal injury. That means all the Steelers have available to them against the Giants is a pair of rookies: fourth-round pick Joshua Dobbs and Houston.

Dobbs will start, but Houston will play an undetermined amount .

“It's gonna be fun. So we will see how it goes,” Houston said after Wednesday's walkthrough.

“It's just going to be a good opportunity to drive the ball down the field and score some points.”

Simple enough. What about his goals for his time leading the offense?

“You just wanna get a first down — and then the next goal is to get another first down,” Houston said, then laughed. “Just keep moving, don't stall, and just keep going.”

While Dobbs is assured of a roster spot and a chance to develop into the Steelers' quarterback of the future, the odds are stacked against Houston hanging around too long. Undrafted and unemployed until the Steelers brought him on a tryout for their rookie camp in May, Houston earned a contract — but the dreaded “fourth quarterback/extra camp arm” rarely sticks.

Still, as Tomlin often points out, all 90 players in camp have an opportunity to impress — even a guy like Houston, who only started five games in college and was benched at one point during that starting senior 2016 season.

At camp, Houston has steadily improved during team practice sessions, the number of off-target throws that plagued him over the first few practices in Latrobe has diminished seemingly by the day.

The big stage for Houston comes Friday. By the second preseason game, who knows, Tomlin might elect to give Roethlisberger a series or two, Jones might be back and need to “catch up” via running the offense for an extended game period, and Dobbs almost assuredly will get long looks from the coaches this preseason.

In other words, the Giants game could be Houston's best chance to impress.

Just showing he understands the offense is a good place to start.

“I know most everything that they've told us and all the coaching points have been helping out,” Houston said. “I'm nothing even close to what Big Ben is doing — he's on a different level, he's on a Ph.D track. But we are getting there. That's our goal to aspire to be: as good as him. A Hall of Fame-type player. It's good to watch him every day.”

Notes from camp

Quote of the day: “I know I sound like a broken record when I talk openly about the misfortunes of others being an opportunity, but it is very much the case.” –Tomlin on players earning more and better reps when those above them on the depth chart are out because of injury.

Stock up: Coty Sensabaugh. The veteran earned some public praise from Tomlin and has gotten exclusively first- and second-team reps during camp. He even drew the high-profile Antonio Brown assignment Wednesday.

Stock down: Keion Adams. It might be through no fault of his own (injury), but missing so much practice time during this camp complicates even further the seventh-round pick's path to a roster spot among the crowded outside linebacker depth chart.

Schedule: Walkthrough Thursday (closed to the public/media), travel to New York/New Jersey for Friday game at the Giants.

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