Last season, the Pittsburgh Steelers had a late bye week, and they used that opportunity to get a good look at some of their bottom of the roster guys. In the wake of that time period, running back Isaiah Pead was released and Fitzgerald Toussaint was promoted to the 53-man roster.
In a short amount of time later, Toussaint passed Jordan Todman on the depth chart and ended up starting two playoff games. He remains on the roster to this day as the third running back, although he has hardly played at all this season. Still, it is a pretty impressive journey for a former undrafted free agent who was the second option for a practice squad running back from another 90-man offseason roster.
During this bye week period, the Steelers are using their extra time—and an injury to starter Ben Roethlisberger—to get a better look at their newest quarterback, third-year former sixth-round draft pick Zach Mettenberger, whom the team claimed off waivers in the waning days of the preseason after they lost Bruce Gradkowski to an injury and were in need of a new third quarterback.
According to Jeremy Fowler for ESPN, the Steelers gave Mettenberger some first-team reps during their two bye week practice sessions. Quarterbacks coach Randy Fichtner was interested in getting a look at what he can do, telling reporters, “we said, let’s go, let’s play ball, give Zach an opportunity to throw the ball, not just hand the ball off”.
During regular practice sessions, of course, the third-string quarterback gets very few opportunities, if any, to do any meaningful work over the course of the regular season. At best, their job is primarily to help the opposing defense prepare for their upcoming opponent.
“It’s been good work for him”, Fichtner said about Mettenberger’s chance to get some quality reps splitting work with Landry Jones during the bye week. “It’s been good for us to evaluate it on tape”.
The veteran quarterbacks coach told reporters that the LSU product has “great arm talent”, but that he is “a little erratic with the slot and where he keeps his spot all the time, keeping it accurate”. He also described the ex-Titan as “pretty sharp” and added that “he’s picked things up”, though he cautioned that what they’ve thrown at him has been limited.
A lot of fans, particularly those who have been nonplussed over Landry Jones’ appearances over the course of the past two seasons, have advocated for the coaching staff to give greater consideration to playing Mettenberger and having him become Roethlisberger’s backup. To his credit, Mettenberger has a more extensive NFL playing history, although he is winless as a starter.
While the Steelers have used this extra time as an opportunity to evaluate Mettenberger, I would not expect anything to develop from this over the course of the season. It should be noted, however, that Jones will be a free agent after the 2016 season, while Mettenberger will still be under contract.