Stop me if you’ve heard this one before: The Steelers are breaking in a new backup quarterback after an injury to one of the players behind Ben Roethlisberger on the depth chart.
It’s been an all-too-common occurrence.
Roethlisberger has appeared in 159 of the 176 regular-season games the Steelers have played since he entered the league in 2004, and he’s been the starter for all but one of them. Entering his 12th season, though, eight different times a Steelers backup quarterback has had a significant injury. Five of those occurred during the preseason, and seven were season-ending (including four of the five from the preseason). Seven have occurred over the past eight years.
The most recent of which was Pittsburgh native Bruce Gradkowski, whose third season with the Steelers and 10th in the NFL was cut short five throws into the preseason because of hand and shoulder injuries. Mike Vick was brought in to replace Gradkowski.
It’s just the lastest in a long string of injuries to a group of players who are limited to, on average, less than four halves of preseason football each, and have combined to start just 17 regular-season games over the past 11 years. Yet, time and again, they have found themselves unable to play.
- In 2004, Charlie Batch underwent knee surgery during the preseason that landed him on season-ending injured reserve. (As an aside: Who knows what would have happened if Batch remained healthy that summer – maybe Roethlisberger, then a rookie, is merely the No. 3 behind Tommy Maddox and Batch to begin the season, meaning Batch relieves an injured Maddox in Week 2, and Roethlisberger therefore never gets the opportunity to have one of the greatest rookie quarterback seasons in NFL history for the 15-1 Steelers).
- In 2008, Batch sustained a broken right collarbone during a preseason game against the Eagles. The Steelers signed veteran Byron Leftwich two days later, and Batch ended up on IR before the season began.
- In 2009, Batch made it through the preseason – but he injured a wrist over the course of throwing two passes during a November overtime game, and the resulting surgery ended his season.
- In 2010, the Steelers were more in need of quality backups than ever before because Roethlisberger was suspended for the first four games of the regular season. Leftwich, who spent 2009 with Tampa Bay, was traded back to the Steelers in April 2010 after Roethlisberger’s infamous Milledgeville, Ga., excursion. Leftwich, though, sustained a knee injury during the preseason finale. That left Dennis Dixon to start. He did so… until injuring his left knee early during his second game. The Steelers went back to Batch for the next two contests until Roethlisberger returned.
- In 2011, Leftwich didn’t make it out of the third preseason game unscathed, his left arm breaking while falling to the ground carrying the ball. Batch and Dixon were still around; Batch started the penultimate game of the regular season.
- In 2012, Leftwich made it through the preseason intact for the first time in three years… but it took less than a game’s worth of regular-season work for him to get hurt. Leftwich replaced Roethlisberger in a Week 10 win, but broke a rib during a game he started the following week against Baltimore.
At least Gradkowski and Landry Jones left the Steelers backup quarterback situation stable in 2013-14, when both made it through the two full seasons healthy. Neither, however, was asked to throw a regular-season pass.
Looking at the Steelers’ recent history with bad luck for their backup QBs, maybe Vick should sit out Thursday when they close out the 2015 preseason at home against the “preseason rival” Carolina Panthers.