When the Pittsburgh Steelers broke mini-camp last week, they did so with five quarterbacks on their 90 man roster. When the team reports to Latrobe in late July, you have to think there will only be four on the roster.
There are hardly enough reps to go around in training camp for three quarterbacks, and you have to think with new offensive coordinator Todd Haley still trying to install his new offense, that even four is one too many.
If one has to go it will obviously be either Troy Smith or Jerrod Johnson. Many probably think that Smith has a slim shot at beating out Charlie Batch for the number three spot on the depth chart, but I think otherwise. Batch has the experience, and despite his limited playing time over the years, which has resulted in a few wins, he has a strong veteran presence in the locker room. Baring Batch getting hurt during the preseason, he should be a lock for the 53 man roster, in what figures to be the final year of his career.
The ship has sailed quite a while ago with Smith, the former Heisman Trophy winner. Yes, he still has the arm strength, but that is it in my opinion. His upside is a career clip board holder and nothing more. If he was NFL quality, he would not have spent the 2011 season playing in the UFL behind fellow Heisman Trophy-winner Eric Crouch.
While Johnson too is a long shot to make an NFL roster this year, he has youth on his side and practice squad eligibility to boot. At the very least he can mop up some preseason games to get some work against NFL competition. The knock on Johnson coming out of college last year was his accuracy and his arm strength, both of which have reportedly improved this past year. I must disclaimer that report as it seems it might have very well come out of the camp that worked with Johnson. Biased? Perhaps.
If you want to point to salary cap reasons as a reason to keep one over the other, you need not to. Johnson does not even factor into the Rule of 51 number. Smith does, but you have to consider replacement offset if he is released. Both Batch and Byron Leftwich signed one-year qualifying contracts that come with discounted cap hits in addition.
My thoughts aside on both, how will this play out? Both Leftwich and Batch are not spring chickens. Although the upside of Smith is nil, he does have game experience on his side. The Steelers just do not seem poised to keep a quarterback on the practice squad, so that should be enough to eliminate the need to keep Johnson. I can see Smith being kept as insurance should either Leftwich or Batch get injured during the preseason. If both stay healthy, Smith will be released during the first or second cut down.
Expect the Steelers to make that decision over the course of the next few weeks. Who would you keep and why?