Steelers take Oklahoma QB Jones in NFL draft

By WILL GRAVES - AP Sports Writer
    2013-04-27 13:03

PITTSBURGH (AP) - The Pittsburgh Steelers are starting to think about life after Ben Roethlisberger.

Pittsburgh drafted Oklahoma quarterback Landry Jones in the fourth round of the NFL Draft on Saturday, the highest the club has taken a quarterback since using the 11th overall pick on Roethlisberger nine years ago.

Jones smashed every significant passing record during his four years at Oklahoma, throwing for 16,646 yards and 123 touchdowns while starting 50 of 52 games.

Pittsburgh sent a third-round pick in the 2014 draft to Miami for the Dolphins' fourth-round pick and the chance to grab the 24-year-old Jones. Earlier in the fourth round the Steelers picked Syracuse safety Shamarko Thomas to provide some needed depth behind entrenched starters Troy Polamalu and Ryan Clark.

The addition of both Jones and Thomas continued a practical approach to the draft by the Steelers, who addressed their most immediate needs in the first three rounds, taking linebacker Jarvis Jones in the first, running back Le'Veon Bell in the second and wide receiver Markus Wheaton in the third.

All three are expected to get a chance to play in 2013. The same can't be said for Jones, though Pittsburgh's aggressive move to land one of the most prolific quarterbacks in NCAA history will certainly raise eyebrows.

The Steelers have relied heavily on longtime backups Byron Leftwich and Charlie Batch when Roethlisberger has been out of the lineup. Both are now unlikely to return after Pittsburgh signed Bruce Gradkowski to serve as Roethlisberger's top sub and drafted Jones with an eye toward the future.

Pittsburgh quarterback coach Randy Fichtner said it was time for Roethlisberger, a two-time Super Bowl winner, to become a mentor. Jones admitted he was a little surprised when his phone rang it was the Steelers calling. Though he believes he can start in the NFL one day, he knows he will be given time to learn the game with Roethlisberger atop the depth chart indefinitely.

``It's a great organization with a lot of history,'' Jones said.

While Jones will wait his turn, the Steelers are optimistic Thomas can make his way onto the field this fall.

The 5-foot-9 Thomas gives Pittsburgh some depth in the defensive backfield after the Steelers lost reserve safeties Ryan Mundy and Will Allen to free agency and have aging stars in Polamalu and Clark.

``I'm not worried about his size at all,'' secondary coach Carnell Lake said. ``The kid has a 40-inch vertical and that kind of explosiveness gives him great range when it comes to making plays.''

Lake added if Thomas was two inches taller he would have gone in the first round. Thomas was a first-team All-Big East selection after his senior season at Syracuse, when he led the Orange with 88 tackles.

Though Thomas played primarily at safety he filled in occasionally at nickelback and corner and that versatility could be an asset in a remodeled secondary.

``I will play anywhere they want me,'' Thomas said. ``I just want to be on the field. I want to help out the Steelers.''

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