KANSAS CITY, Mo. – The Chiefs could face an unfamiliar quarterback when the Pittsburgh Steelers take the field Sunday at Arrowhead Stadium.
Starter Ben Roethlisberger is dealing with a knee injury and backup Mike Vick suffered a hamstring injury in Week 6, meaning third-string quarterback Landry Jones is in line to start.
“I’m just getting myself kind of prepared and ready to go whether or not I start or somebody else goes in there and plays, whether that’s Mike or Ben,” Jones told the Pittsburgh media Wednesday. “Not for sure what they’re going to do yet.”
Jones entered the Week 6 contest after Vick suffered the hamstring injury and led a 25-13 victory against the Arizona Cardinals, so the Chiefs have film to gain a view on his skillset.
But there are challenges when facing an unknown player, especially a quarterback, and the Chiefs are prepared for Pittsburgh’s offensive scheme.
“That’s always hard dealing with something you don’t know exactly how he’s going to respond to certain things,” defensive coordinator Bob Sutton said. “But I’d say system-wise, it kind of gives us a better grasp of what they might do.”
While the Chiefs need to become acquainted with what Jones brings to Pittsburgh’s offense in the event he starts Sunday, the 6-4, 223-pound signal caller is no stranger to the Midwest region where the Big 12 Conference calls home.
Jones enjoyed an accomplished career at Oklahoma from 2009-12, and left the school as the Big 12’s all-time leader in passing yards (16,646) and total offense (16,271).
And some members of the Chiefs are already very familiar with the former Sooner as former college teammates, specifically left tackle Donald Stephenson, cornerback Jamell Fleming and long snapper James Winchester.
Stephenson left Oklahoma a year before Jones and offered a scouting report on what his defensive teammates can expect.
“He’s really talented,” Stephenson said of his former quarterback. “I blocked for the guy, he has a lot of heart, a lot of fight, really smart guy, does all the little things right. It will be interesting because I know he’s got a lot of talent, he’s got a really great arm.”
Fleming saw Jones plenty of times on the other side of the football during practices and offered a scouting report from a defensive point of view.
“He’s a quick learner,” Fleming said, “has a good arm and steps up in the pocket really well.”
So did Fleming ever have opportunities to pick off Jones’ passes in practice before leaving college the same year as Stephenson?
“Oh, of course, yeah,” Fleming said with a hearty laugh.
Winchester agreed with Stephenson and Fleming on Jones’ skillset, adding the area that left an indelible mark surrounded how Jones carried himself on the field and in the locker room.
“He was a heck of a quarterback at OU, a great leader,” said Winchester, who is friends with Jones and his wife, Whitney. “I’ve been following him the last couple of years ever since he came out, backing up Ben. Just excited to see him and be on the same field as him again.”
Getting on the field hasn’t been easy for Jones since the Steelers used a fourth-round pick (115th overall) in 2013, but that is expected when playing behind an established starter such as Roethlisberger.
Jones didn’t record his first NFL career pass attempt until Week 6 against the Cardinals, and he finished the contest completing eight of 12 passes for 188 yards and two touchdowns.
“With a guy that you know like that, it’s always exciting to see those guys excel and have good games,” Winchester said. “I know he’s been in the waiting for quite a while, been in the mix, so I’m excited for him.”
Jones’ ability to enter the game cold and lead a victory against a quality opponent like the Cardinals also left an impression on the Chiefs defensive coordinator.
“I think anytime a guy goes in and does what he did in that game, rallied them and did a great job of executing the offense,” Sutton said. “It looks like pretty much they let it roll out for him. I think it speaks well for his ability to prepare, because that’s the challenge for any guy that’s a backup – and he was actually the third – so he obviously drilled down and the opportunities leading up to that, preseason, OTAs, etc.”
Jones excelling under adverse circumstances doesn’t surprise Donaldson, who points out his former teammate’s performance against then-No. 5 Florida State in 2011.
Led by Jones’ heroics where he engineered two fourth-quarter scoring drives against the Seminoles, the Sooners left Tallahassee with a 23-13 win in a hostile environment attended by 84,392 fans.
“We played in some tough games,” Stephenson said. “I remember us going to Florida State and getting the win there. It was a crazy atmosphere. He kind of bowed up and made a heck of a throw in the fourth quarter to win that game. He’s a tough guy, he can play.”
Fleming said he was impressed with Jones’ mental toughness in game situations.
“Just getting hit and able to get back up and win us games with injuries and being able to fight through them,” Fleming said. “He has a lot of mental toughness.”
Meanwhile, Roethlisberger put in a limited practice Thursday for a second straight day, while Vick did not practice.
The signs continue to point to Jones starting and the Chiefs will have a better idea no later than Friday evening when the final injury report is released.
But whatever happens, Jones is sure to be greeted by his former Oklahoma teammates.
Fleming took a defensive player’s mentality and hopes to re-enact Sooner practices with an interception. He already has the reaction planned if it happens.
“I’ll probably write him a letter and say thank you,” Fleming said with a laugh.
Stephenson took a sentimental approach and said he will make it a point to seek out Jones after the game.
“I might switch jerseys with him, too, because I blocked him for two to three years,” Stephenson said. “He’s a good dude. I like him.”