Rookie jitters behind him, Steelers backup QB Jones looking to impress in preseason

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LATROBE, Pennsylvania — Landry Jones can do the math.

He knows his immediate — and barring disaster, long-term — future with the Pittsburgh Steelers will consist of him watching from the sideline on Sundays as Ben Roethlisberger goes to work.

Jones gets it. He totally does. Roethlisberger has the experience and the talent to go with his pair of Super Bowl rings and at age 32 is still a half-decade away from even pondering retirement.

If Jones is going to become a starter in the NFL one day, he's aware it will almost certainly have to be somewhere else.

And while the former Oklahoma star is doing what he can to push those thoughts out of his mind and focus on gaining further command of an offense he may never actually run, the realist in him knows what he's up against.

"Sure I would love to play, but as far as right now and the situation I'm in, is it likely? No," Jones said Wednesday.

"But am I just going to pigeon-hole myself? Am I just going to be a backup? Am I going to be a third-string guy? No. I want to start. I want to play in this league and I have aspirations for myself and where I want my career to go. But as far as right now, it's tough not playing, it's tough not getting exactly what you want."

Don't get him wrong, he's not complaining.

The fourth-round pick in the 2013 draft insists he's "blessed" to learn behind Roethlisberger and backup Bruce Gradkowski.

It helps to have the stability of a four-year contract and no real pressure to do anything more than get adjusted to life in the NFL.

A week into his second training camp, the growth process appears to be speeding up. The passes that sailed over heads or bounced at the feet of his receivers as a rookie are now finding their target.

"Last year I was just going out there and things were flying around, I really didn't know what was going on," Jones said. "This year I've felt a lot more comfortable in the offense, knowing my reads and things along those lines."

He'll get a chance to show how far he's come over the next four weeks. Though Jones declines to speculate on whether he has a chance to supplant Gradkowski for the second spot on the depth chart — calling it a question better suited for coach Mike Tomlin — he understands what's at stake when he takes the field on Saturday night against the New York Giants.

"I just want to perform the way I know I'm capable of performing and wherever the chips fall, they fall," he said. "Whatever the coaches decide they're gonna do, they're gonna do. I don't have much control over that situation."

What he does have control over, however, is what he does when the football is in his hands. The previous time he took snaps in a packed stadium, things didn't go so well.

Jones completed just 30 of 66 passes (45 percent) during the 2013 preseason. He was tentative at times and rushed at others. While he's certainly looking for better numbers, he's also looking for a better presence in the pocket.

To get it he spent a majority of the offseason focusing on his footwork.

He excelled during a record-setting career at Oklahoma, where he became the Big 12's all-time leader in yards passing (16,646) and touchdowns (123). It helped playing behind an offensive line that made sure he was rarely touched.

It's a nice way to make history, but it's not exactly the best way to get ready for the NFL. Not the most mobile of quarterbacks, the 6-foot-4 Jones looked uncomfortable when forced to scramble last summer.

So he spent the winter and spring going through drill after drill designed to make him more effective when things go bad.

"For me it's always been moving in the pocket, just becoming more explosive," he said. "I've got to get more comfortable doing those things, making awkward throws, getting out of my comfort zone where I'm not just drop, hitching and throwing the ball."

There's little chance of that while running the scout team against the first-string defense.

It's a difficult proposition showing how far you've come when you're paired with a group of inexperienced players against a veteran unit that typically ranks among the league's best.

There are moments when Jones still looks hesitant, he doesn't seem lost. The distinction is an important one for his coach.

"I think he's headed in the right direction," Tomlin said.

At this point, that's enough.

"You just have to make smart decisions and quick decisions and just throw it to the open guy," Jones said. "You have to make throws at times (in practice), but you're going to have to do that in games."

Even if the chance to do it in ones that count remains years away. The 25-year-old is content to wait. The way he looks at it, he has no other choice.

"You try not to think about that type of stuff," he said. "You can stress yourself and if you do that you don't focus on the task at hand. Sometimes I do think about the future and whatever it holds, but for right now what I'm concentrating on is the next practice, the next opportunity, the next play."

NOTES: Rookie LB Ryan Shazier missed his second straight practice with what Tomlin described as a "boo boo." DL Steve McLendon sat out a fourth consecutive practice with a concussion.


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