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Steelers

Time running out for Steelers' third-string quarterback Jones

| Sunday, June 14, 2015, 8:24 p.m.
Steelers quarterback Landry Jones throws to running back Josh Harris during a practice Wednesday on the South Side. Jones threw for 16,646 yards and 123 touchdowns in four seasons at Oklahoma from 2009-12.
Chaz Palla | Trib Total Media
Steelers quarterback Landry Jones throws to running back Josh Harris during a practice Wednesday on the South Side. Jones threw for 16,646 yards and 123 touchdowns in four seasons at Oklahoma from 2009-12.

Landry Jones is a realist. He understands the challenge he faces as the Steelers go through minicamp this week.

For Jones, his future with the Steelers could hinge on how he performs this upcoming preseason. It's now or never for him to establish himself as the next man up behind quarterback Ben Roethlisberger.

The third-year quarterback has had a difficult time adjusting since he was taken in the fourth round out of Oklahoma, where he thrived in a spread offense. He threw for more than 16,000 yards, but more importantly, he grasped the complexities of a high-octane offense fueled largely by his precise passing and decisiveness.

“Landry is at a point where he can compete,” quarterbacks coach Randy Fichtner said. “He knows he's at a time when it's probably make-or-break time for him. Eventually, if there isn't a potential move forward, the younger guys will have to get some work.

“I think the transition from what Landry played in college has taken a little longer for him. As with most spread guys, that happens.

“I feel confident he knows the offense, and he can execute it. Any rhythm-type plays take longer. He's gotten better at throwing the ball down field, and that sounds strange for a guy who threw for more than 16,000 yards in college.”

There might be a debate about the strength and accuracy of Jones' arm. There, too, are questions about his ability to conceptualize the nuances of a Steelers offense that was second best in the NFL last season.

But there is little doubt he's in for a long, hard fight to secure a spot on the active roster when the Steelers break camp in late August.

“This is an important year for me and my career,” Jones said. “It's also important for my future on this team. I need to go out there and prove I'm capable of making plays.”

So far, Jones hasn't distinguished himself from the competition. The Steelers signed former Clemson star Tajh Boyd to challenge Jones and to push last year's backup, Bruce Gradkowski.

“Landry has been a little up and down, but he's working hard,” offensive coordinator Todd Haley said. “It's a tough spot to be in, being the third guy. He's been thrust into getting a little more reps with Bruce being out, so he has to take advantage of that opportunity.”

Also, the Steelers spent part of last week's organized team activities taking a look at Devin Gardner and Tyler Murphy, both of whom have taken reps at quarterback and wide receiver.

“They are being evaluated every day, and they are competing,” Fichtner said. “They both need a lot of reps, so they can pick up certain schemes and see things visually. We're trying to get an idea what they all have.”

Jones said he doesn't feel pressured by the acquisition of Boyd, who went undrafted in 2014 after a record-setting career at Clemson.

“You can use it as an extra motivation, but I need to focus on what I'm doing,” Jones said. “I have to focus on the things I'm good at.”

Fichtner and Haley are still trying to determine just how Jones fits within the offense.

“I think with the competitiveness in that (quarterback) room, you always want to be the best one,” Fichtner said. “If you're the best one, then we all win, because we have a pretty good one (Roethlisberger) right now.

“They understand their roles, and they know someone has to come out of this as the backup quarterback. If I can get Landry Jones to be better than Ben Roethlisberger, then we all win.”

Jones, though, simply is trying to win a roster spot. His confident has grown because he understands the offense better.

“The game is starting to slow down a little bit for me,” Jones said. “It used to feel as if bodies were flying around me that rookie year. So, I've definitely gotten used to the speed of the game.

“I'm more comfortable with the offense. I'm recognizing things more, and I'm more confident in where I'm going with the football. There were some timing throws I wasn't as comfortable with as I am now.”

Ralph N. Paulk is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at rpaulk@tribweb.com or via Twitter @RalphPaulk_Trib.

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