Steelers will take a long look at QBs in draft

April 22, 2013
By Gerry Dulac / Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

Steelers quarterbacks on June 5, 2012 -- Ben Roethlisberger, Charlie Batch and Byron Leftwich -- work out during OTAs on the South Side.

The Steelers haven't decided if they will take a quarterback sometime Friday or Saturday in the NFL draft. But, for the first time in a long time, general manager Kevin Colbert said they are open to the possibility.

If they do, will they wait until the middle or late rounds to draft a quarterback who merely will be the No. 3 quarterback behind Ben Roethlisberger and Bruce Gradkowski?

Or do they start looking for Roethlisberger's heir apparent now and go after a quarterback, say, in the third round?

If they do not draft a quarterback, the Steelers, in all likelihood, will welcome back Charlie Batch as one of their backups.

The Steelers are not ready to start grooming a replacement for Roethlisberger, who is 31 and entering his 10th season in the league. He has three more years remaining on his $100 million contract. But that doesn't mean they would pass on a talented quarterback who still needs several years of development before he is ready to play in the NFL.

And that quarterback is Tyler Bray, who is only 21 and skipped his senior season at Tennessee to enter the draft.

A lot of NFL teams, the Steelers included, think Bray is the most-talented quarterback in the draft. He is a 6-foot-6, 230-pound pocket passer with a powerful arm who threw for 7,444 yards and 69 touchdowns in three seasons with the Volunteers.

Bray, however, is not like any of the 2012 rookie quarterbacks who came ready-made for the NFL -- Andrew Luck, Robert Griffin III or Russell Wilson. In fact, some NFL teams are worried he might be more like Ryan Leaf, the poster child for the all-arm, no-head quarterback.

Because of his maturity level and need for development, Bray could go anywhere from the second to fourth round in the draft. But nobody questions his skills or ability to make any throw on the field.

"There's a lot of refinement that needs to take place," said former NFL coach and quarterback guru Jon Gruden, speaking on a conference call.

Gruden, ESPN's color analyst on "Monday Night Football," added: "He's got to learn how to manage some situations better. He's got to deliver at crunch time. He's got to polish his game. I think his preparation needs to increase."

Most coaches agree Bray needs to sit and learn for several years before he is ready to play in the NFL. But, with the right attitude and development, they also think he could be a top-tier quarterback very similar to Joe Flacco.

Even though the Steelers are not close to replacing Roethlisberger, Bray is the type of quarterback who can be brought along slowly and given several years to develop.

Of course, with so many needs in other areas, the Steelers may not be willing to use a second-day pick on a quarterback. More than likely, that choice will come Saturday, after the third round, and there are several possibilities there, too.

The Steelers spent a lot of time meeting with E.J. Manuel of Florida State (6-4 1/2, 239) last month, intrigued with his arm strength and athleticism. Manuel fits the mold of the new-look quarterback in the league, someone who can run the option or execute the rollout. But his stock has been on the rise, and he may not make it past the second round.

If the Steelers wait until the middle or late rounds to draft a quarterback, that means they are looking for someone who will be nothing more than Roethlisberger's backup, even down the road. And that selection could lead them, ironically enough, to Roethlisberger's alma mater and the player known as Little Ben -- Zac Dysert.

Dysert, though, isn't so little. He is 6 feet 3, 231 pounds and broke most of Roethlisberger's passing records at Miami of Ohio. Steelers quarterback coach Randy Fichtner met with Dysert after the Steelers became impressed watching his game tape.

If the Steelers drafted Dysert, that would give them three quarterbacks from the Mid-American Conference, just like they had when Batch (Eastern Michigan) and Byron Leftwich (Marshall) were the backups.

"I've always looked up to Ben Roethlisberger and the Steelers," Dysert said at the NFL combine in February in Indianapolis. "It would be exactly like following in his footsteps."