Steelers backup QB Jones trying to focus on Browns, not 2017
PITTSBURGH (AP) Landry Jones will be looking for a job in March. Consider Sunday's regular-season finale against Cleveland the Pittsburgh Steelers' backup quarterback's last best chance at landing an interview.
Nearing the end of his fourth season behind Ben Roethlisberger, Jones believes his personal learning curve has leveled off. That the game is slowing down. That he still has the talent to play at the highest level.
So while the outcome against the Browns won't make a lick of difference in where or when the AFC North champion Steelers open the playoffs, Jones is well aware it could make a significant impact on what locker room he's in next fall.
''It's in the back of your mind,'' said Jones, who will make his fourth career start while the Steelers to give Roethlisberger the day off to keep him healthy for the postseason. ''First and foremost you want to win the game. There's nothing that replaces going out there and getting a win.''
That's something Jones has only done once in four years, and even that comes with a major asterisk. He started at Heinz Field against the Browns in November 2015, only to leave in the first quarter with an ankle injury. Roethlisberger, held out with a sprained foot, came on in relief and threw for 379 yards in a 30-9 win .
There won't be a safety net this time around with Roethlisberger inactive. Only the shot to prove what Jones can do. And Jones isn't the only one that knows it.
''Landry has the opportunity to go out and the way backup quarterbacks are being paid, he's a free agent next year, there's no telling whether he's a $4 or $5 million a year guy, or be a $2 or $3 million a year backup,'' guard Ramon Foster said. ''There's a lot for him on the line.''
Jones played solidly if not spectacularly in his one start this season, completing 29 of 47 passes for 281 yards with a touchdown and an interception in a 27-16 loss to New England on Oct. 23 while Roethlisberger recovered from left knee surgery. The Steelers rallied from an early 14-0 deficit to pull within a point in the third quarter before fading.
Of course, Jones had Le'Veon Bell and Antonio Brown at his disposal then. Like Roethlisberger, coach Mike Tomlin plans not to use those two against the Browns. Maybe it's fitting. Jones has spent the majority of his time with the Steelers working with the second string or the scout team, which made him plenty familiar with role players such as wide receivers Eli Rogers and Demarcus Ayers. Both made significant contributions late in last week's division-clinching victory over Baltimore.
''It's not like I'm throwing to unknown guys,'' Jones said.
And it's not like offensive coordinator Todd Haley is going to cut the playbook in half. The game plan will focus on what Jones does well, namely make quick decisions. The days when Jones felt overwhelmed are long gone. Foster called Jones ''very cool at what he's doing.''
It helps that the majority of the offensive line that's allowed just 17 sacks this season will be in front of him. The Steelers are still holding out hope of finishing with the fewest sacks allowed in the NFL (the Raiders currently have given up 16), so yes, Jones will be given plenty of reminders to just get rid of the ball if nothing develops.
''I don't want to see him stroking the ball,'' Foster said with a laugh.
Jones doesn't want to get too wrapped up in his future prospects, though Bell believes Jones could potentially be in the mix to start somewhere else down the road. Given Pittsburgh's investment in his development, the Steelers could also offer Jones a chance to stick around and continue to be a competent backup behind Roethlisberger.
The former Oklahoma star who became a father for the first time last spring hasn't gotten that far down the road. Better to just focus on Sunday and save what's next for later.
''We have a great opportunity in this business to make a good living for our family,'' he said. ''You get those type of opportunities, you want to capitalize on it.''
NOTES: Bell's teammates selected him as the 2016 MVP on Wednesday. It's the second time in Bell's four-year career he's earned the award. Bell, who can become a free agent in March, said he ''obviously'' wants to remain with the Steelers in 2017 and beyond. ... LB Ryan Shazier (illness), DE Stephon Tuitt (knee), DE Ricardo Mathews (ankle), S Robert Golden (ankle), LB Anthony Chickillo (ankle) did not practice. ... WR Sammie Coates (hamstring), TE Ladarius Green (concussion) and TE Xavier Grimble (ribs) were limited.
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