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Oklahoma football: Landry Jones out to prove himself with Pittsburgh Steelers

Former OU starting quarterback will battle to win the No. 3 job with the Steelers during training camp.
By Mike Baldwin Published: August 3, 2013

Most agree record-setting Oklahoma quarterback Landry Jones hampered his NFL stock by staying his senior year.

But what round the Big 12's all-time passing leader was selected no longer is relevant.

Jones' focus is to nail down a spot on the Pittsburgh Steelers' 53-man roster.

“It's been a dream for a long time to play in the NFL,” Jones said in a phone interview with The Oklahoman. “I'm excited to get the opportunity.”

Jones is competing with former Alabama quarterback John Parker Wilson for the Steelers' No. 3 job. Two-time Super Bowl champion Ben Roethlisberger is the starter. Veteran Bruce Gradkowski was signed to be the backup.

“This is different, knowing you're at the bottom of the depth chart,” Jones said. “You just have to put your head down and start grinding. When it's your opportunity, you have to take advantage.”

A week after the draft, Pittsburgh general manager Kevin Colbert and coach Mike Tomlin insisted the Steelers didn't draft Jones to be their quarterback of the future. They selected Jones to provide some youth at the position.

It's uncertain where Jones would have been drafted had he come out after his junior season. A couple of draft “gurus” said Jones might have gone in the first round in 2012, but the overall consensus is Jones probably would have been a second-round pick.

“It is what it is,” Jones said. “There's all kinds of speculation out there on whether if I had come out last year I might have gotten drafted higher. It turned out I got drafted in the fourth round. That's exactly where I was supposed to go. It's a good situation for me.”

Part of that “good situation” is playing behind Roethlisberger, a former NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year and two-time Pro Bowler who has thrown for nearly 30,000 yards.

“It's such a great opportunity to pick Ben's brain, especially during camp when we're getting ready for the season,” Jones said. “We've talked about different route combinations and what he likes and dislikes.”

Big Ben is signed through 2015. But because Roethlisberger has played in all 16 games only once his entire career, the backup sometimes has been asked to grind out a win, including playing in some high-profile, nationally televised games.

Where Jones fits into the QB mix the next two or three seasons remains to be seen. His NFL journey begins Saturday night in a preseason game with the New York Giants.

Learning by watching

Over the past four seasons, Jones started 50 games for the Sooners. His rookie season, he'll get regular work in training camp and play in preseason games.

But for some quarterbacks, the rookie season is similar to a redshirt season. Rookies that play behind a Pro Bowl-caliber veteran often wind up on the practice squad.

The first step is digesting a new offense.

“There are some protection changes and obviously huddling, which we didn't do at OU,” Jones said. “Those are the two biggest differences, but we had some similar route combinations.”

NFL defenses are more sophisticated. One adjustment is the verbiage. After having plays sent in from the sideline at OU, Jones is memorizing a new playbook.

“Actually, it's coming along not too bad,” Jones said. “During OTAs (organized team activities) and minicamp, it took a little bit longer just because it's all brand new to you. There is still more I have to get done, but I feel I have a decent grasp of it.”

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