By Dale Grdnic
PITTSBURGH — It looks like the Pittsburgh Steelers are finally preparing for life without quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, as they selected Oklahoma’s Landry Jones with the 115th overall pick in the fourth round during the 2013 NFL Draft Saturday afternoon. It’s the highest that the Steelers have drafted a quarterback since taking Roethlisberger with the 11th overall pick in 2004.
Not that they expect Roethlisberger to retire anytime soon, but the 31-year-old signal-caller is entering his 10th NFL season and has a lot of wear and tear on his body after getting sacked 344 times in his career with 40 or more drops behind the line in five of six seasons from 2006-11.
The Steelers sent a third-round pick from next season to the Miami Dolphins to get safety Shamarko Thomas this year and then took the 24-year-old Jones with their second choice in the 4th round. The Steelers must believe they’ll get another third-rounder next year in compensation for losing wideout Mike Wallace this year.
“We’ve had great experience in that room with Charlie (Batch) and Byron (Leftwich),” Steelers quarterbacks coach Randy Fichtner said. “I just think it was time to start grooming a new player. Freshmen up the room, if you will. (And) Landry was a productive player, a four-year starter playing big football.
“He has some of the biggest production I’ve seen out of any of the quarterbacks in several years. He’s a guy that still has a lot of up-side. He played in a system that is basically one-back. He knows the system very well. He’s been easily adaptable in meetings that I’ve spent with him, so he can understand the pro game. That’s going to be very exciting.”
Jones demolished every significant passing record during his four years at Oklahoma with 16,646 passing yards and 123 touchdowns with 50 starts in 52 games, including a school-record 48 straight. This is a marked departure in strategy at quarterback for the Steelers, who have relied heavily on veterans Batch and Leftwich to back up Roethlisberger and play when he has been injured. The two are unlikely to return now that the Steelers have drafted Jones and signed Bruce Gradkowski in free agency.
Batch and Leftwich, to a certain extent, basically have been mentors to Roethlisberger in recent years. Now that Roethlisberger is a double-digit veteran, Fichtner believed it was time for the student to become a teacher.
“It may be time for Ben to give that experience to someone else and to help in the room,” Fichtner said. “I’m excited about coaching a young player in the room. There has been a great respect between Byron and Charlie and Ben, (but) I think this gives Ben an opportunity to share his experiences. That’s an exciting time. I saw that with Hines when I was in that room (as the Steelers’ wide receivers coach).”
Jones appeared to be ecstatic for the chance to learn from Roethlisberger.
“Getting to stand behind Roethlisberger is going to be a huge opportunity for me,” Jones said. “He’s a guy who has been established in this league for a long time, and I get to learn from one of the best quarterbacks to play the game. I’m just really excited to get to work with him and really excited about this opportunity.”
Jones already has some familiarity with Roethlisberger, since the Ben’s sister, Carlee, and Jones’ wife, Whitney, played three seasons together for the Oklahoma women’s basketball team.
“Obviously, my wife is pretty pumped about this whole deal,” Jones said. “I had more contact with the Bills than anybody else, so I didn’t really know who would pick me. But, like I’ve been saying, at the end of the day I was just so excited that (the Steelers) chose me and they picked me out.
“(And) it’s not disappointing at all (to come to a team with a veteran quarterback). I was just happy to get picked up. You have to start your career somewhere. On every single team, there’s going to be a quarterback that has your job, and you’re going to go in there, you’re going to be respectful and do all these things and compete as hard as you can.”
Jones said he was like most kids and believed he eventually could be a starter in the NFL and win a Super Bowl, and now that he’s with the Steelers he eventually could get that opportunity.