Steelers third-string quarterback Zach Mettenberger, claimed off waivers last Wednesday, playfully wore Ben Roethlisberger’s No. 7 jersey at practice on Monday.
“I think it was just a little joke played on me by the actual No. 7,” said Mettenberger courtesy of Steelers.com. “I used to wear No. 7 when I was at Tennessee. I think he believed it would be amusing. I believe this is the last day I will wear that number.”
Sure, it was all fun and games for Mettenberger, Roethlisberger and the rest of the crew at Steelers’ practice on Monday, but, there’s truth behind every joke, as the saying goes.
Truth is, Mettenberger has no idea how popular he became in town the second Pittsburgh asserted him following his release by the Chargers off of waivers.
Thus, am I suggesting Mettenberger jokingly donning a No. 7 jersey in practice was some form of inadvertent symbolism, that the fans want him to ascend to the top of the quarterback depth chart?
You see, the Steelers promised Mettenberger, he became the clear-cut selection to assume the job of backup quarterback to Roethlisberger.
Who cares if no backup quarterback in the league would be effective at replacing a starter with a franchise skillset?
After two decades of mediocre quarterback play near the top of the depth chart, Roethlisberger shortly began headlining Super Bowl seasons and became a savior when he was drafted in the first round in 2004.
Sure, there are supporters who haven’t cared for Roethlisberger and have probably always wanted to see him replaced; it’s the nature of football buffs–especially Steelers buffs–to regularly show a bit of contempt for the starting quarterback (probably one of the reasons Terry Bradshaw is in therapy).
But in Roethlisberger’s case, he’s evolved so much at the position over the years, we’re likely past the point where it’s even much of an argument as to who’s the greatest quarterback in Steelers history (sorry, Terry). So, much like that person who you secretly hate but can’t openly criticize because he or she’s only so popular among your group of friends, it would be madness to openly show contempt for No. 7, even if really need to (you know who you are).
But since football fans–especially Steelers enthusiasts–have an insatiable need to criticize the quarterback, the brunt of that criticism is currently on the shoulders of Jones–the worst backup quarterback in the history of the world.
After he was selected by Pittsburgh in the fourth round out of Oklahoma in the 2013 NFL Draft there was always a bit of contempt for Jones. That ’s not entirely true. In fact, since Jones had such stellar NCAA stats (16,646 passing yards, 123 touchdowns, 52 interceptions and an efficiency rating of 141.5), there were many lovers–and even pros, such as the afterward merely retired Charlie Batch–who initially thought he was brought in to be the heir apparent to Roethlisberger.
It was a fine thought, but unfortunately, there’s generally a lot of quarterbacks with Jones’ stats that get drafted in the mid-to-late rounds (his NFL.com draft profile compared him to Matt Cassel–career-backup extraordinaire). And that’s because those types of projections and views usually aren’t far off the mark.
Perhaps that’s why Jones fought so much during his first two or three training camps before the light bulb finally went on in 2015. Just, the light wasn’t bright enough for Jones to become an elite quarterback; when Roethlisberger suffered various ailments a season ago it just provided enough illumination to allow Jones to get the Steelers through a game or two.
That’s what a back-up quarterback is supposed to do.
Jones’ NFL numbers of 32 completions in 55 throws for 513 yards, three touchdowns and four interceptions are fairly typical for back-up quarterbacks. Yet, that hasn’t stopped Steelers enthusiasts from wanting a better option.
Veteran Bruce Gradkowski wasn’t going to provide that alternative, especially with his propensity for getting injured in preseason games. Dustin Vaughan sure as heck wasn’t going to satiate the hunger, neither was Bryn Renner.
But Zach Mettenberger, that’s another narrative.
Additionally, he was drafted in the sixth round in 2014, which was marginally below where his NFL.com Draft Profile had projected.
But moving forward that’s not going to matter to Steelers fans.
See, Mettenberger played for a crappy Tennessee team the past two years, complete with crappy employees surrounding him. Therefore, it just stands to reason, given exceptional weapons in Pittsburgh, Mettenberger will dominate.
The possibility of Mettenberger thriving as a Steelers backup quarterback (maybe even to the stage of one day succeeding Roethlisberger) is likely a dream. However, the want for him to accomplish this, well, that’s very probable.