Thursday, April 5, 2012

Is It Time To Draft Ben Roethlisberger's Replacement?

"Sure, absolutely we would [draft a quarterback]. We aren't going to take a quarterback in the first round, but beyond that I would never close the door."

Those words were spoken by Steelers general manager Kevin Colbert at the NFL Annual Meetings back on March 26, 2012 regarding whether or not it's time to look at drafting a viable backup. That may now be in the process of being answered.

On Tuesday, April 3rd, Mark Kaboly of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review reported that new Colts and former Steelers offensive coordinator Bruce Arians wants the team to sign unrestricted free agent Byron Leftwich as a backup quarterback. Obviously the thought being that he knows Arians offense and could also tutor Andrew Luck.

Leftwich, an unrestricted free agent, spent three years together with Arians as player and assistant coach. He has yet to be offered a contract by the Steelers, though they have expressed interest in keeping him around as Ben Roethlisberger’s backup. ~

If the Colts were to be able to entice Leftwich away, that would create a major gap at quarterback behind Big Ben. Then those words spoken by Colbert that opened this article would carry even more weight.

Just as weighty and interesting would be the words spoken by Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin. Asked about whether drafting a quarterback this year would be too soon or not, Tomlin said: "We're interested in acquiring a young quarterback in some form or fashion. I think that's why we signed the guys we're working with in the offseason coming up here in a few weeks in  Jerrod Johnson and Troy Smith. But we could add to that via the draft or free agency."

Tomlin continued, "We're going through that right now from a preparation standpoint. And that's something that we look to do, in terms of globally or long-term."

In other words, organizationally the Steelers realize that they need to be prepared. I'm not a doomsayer, just considering possibilities. Because, simply put, no one can predict the future. So, just in case Roethlisberger goes down and isn't able to be John Wayne, but instead is a "dead Indian in [a] cowboy movie", the Steelers need to be prepared.

As part of that preparation, Tomlin spoke of two players signed to Futures contracts: Jerrod Johnson, signed 1/13/2012, and Troy Smith, signed 1/20/2012.

Neither is exactly going to make people clamor for being put in a game. Usually the most popular player on the team is the backup quarterback. Not in this case.

Johnson, a former Texas A&M Aggie, will be nothing more than a Training Camp body and Troy Smith...well, he had a good career at Ohio St. At 6'0" 218 lbs., he's not built for the NFL at quarterback. While there are NFL quarterbacks who are his approximate weight, he's too short to play behind offensive linemen who are all taller than he is. He was the pride of UFL's Omaha Nighthawks last year for a reason.

The other quarterback we currently know about is beloved veteran, and AARP card holder, Charlie Batch. Batch's particulars don't need to be rehashed anymore. We know what he brings to the table. What he's done when filling in for Big Ben the last two years says enough. He's a coach in the locker room, on the sidelines and, when he does get into games, on the field. But he can't be expected to come in and take the reins long-term if Big Ben were to be gone for an extended portion of the season. (For more on Batch, go to the blog post, "Charlie: The Best Of The Batch")

So, that means that looking for that viable backup, unless I'm forgetting a feasible free agent QB, might just mean looking to the draft.

One name I've heard suggested is University of Houston product Case Keenum.

Case Keenum is by definition a system quarterback. He's undersized, lacks an NFL-size arm and plays mainly out of the shotgun. Yet, he is accurate and does have instincts enough to keep his eyes downfield while under duress. In fact, Keenum is actually very poised in the pocket. He has the feet to buy time and puts a nice touch on his throws when he’s off balance.

It's feast or famine with Keenum: what allows him to make big plays can also lead him to make remarkably dumb decisions. Sound familiar?

Keenum may have the skill set, but just doesn’t have the size to handle the poundings he'd take in NFL, and especially the AFC North.

Another possible draft consideration might just be someone suggested by Vincenzo Landino of - Brandon Weeden.

I disregarded the notion at first, but relented as I gave it more thought. Weeden is NFL-sized, has a big arm and is tough. He would work well in the short-term as well as the long-term should something go awry.

Weeden positively sticks throws into tight windows, throws to the spot instead of the receiver on slants and shows necessary touch on fade routes. He's a tough player too: he played most of the 2010 season with a ruptured tendon in the thumb on his throwing hand. Described as a leader on the field and in the locker room as well.

Naturally, there are negatives too. Weeden is already 28 years old, can have a problem with recognizing the blitz, has the tendency to force throws and has a history of injuries. For a certainty this will be noted by scouts. He certainly has the arm strength, size and requisite intangibles teams look for, but I wouldn't be surprised if he dropped to the bottom half of the draft because of those aforementioned negatives.

If he does, might the Steelers take a chance on him? Kevin Colbert has already answered that question: "If that happens at any position you have to be prepared to deal with it."

So, maybe Vincenzo Landino was on to something. He did make a good point when he said: "You can't say never. We do need a solid backup, though, so that we don't have to change the whole offense if Ben gets hurt.”

Whether he "tweaks" his game to a significant degree or not, Ben could of course fall victim to injury. So, it's a good thing Colbert isn't closing that door, we may need it open as early as this April 28th.


For more of Vincenzo's ideas, articles and great research, follow his Steelers website,, or follow him on his Twitter account, @vincenzolandino.