Steelers rookie Brendon Kay odd man out at QB for now

While Ben Roethlisberger, Bruce Gradkowski and Landry Jones took most of the snaps the past few weeks at Steelers OTAs, Brendon Kay stood some 10 yards back with a helmet in one hand and a football in the other.

But no matter who was under center, Kay was watching.

It has been a whirlwind month for the undrafted rookie, and he is trying to soak up as much football knowledge as he can. With three quarterbacks returning from a year ago, a spot on the roster is unlikely, and a spot on the practice squad is no guarantee either.

But that's not the mindset Kay is taking. He set out a few goals for himself: "Compete. Get on this roster. Go out there and learn as much as I can."

The Steelers figure to go with last year's trio of Roethlisberger, Gradkowski and Jones as their quarterbacks. Jones didn't see any snaps in 2013 as the third-stringer after being drafted by the Steelers in the fourth round in 2013.

With a year under his belt learning the playbook and acclimating himself with the NFL, Jones will likely be coach Mike Tomlin's third choice. But questions remain about his accuracy.

Jones completed just 45.5 percent of his passes in the preseason a year ago and said earlier in the spring he was still working on throwing into tighter windows.

That opens a sliver of hope for Kay, however slim.

So does he have a chance?

"Definitely," Kay said. "The Steelers have shown that over time the best guys are going to stick."

The Steelers called Kay midway through the seventh round of last month's draft and let him know they were interested in signing him as a free agent. The former Cincinnati standout fielded calls from a couple of other teams, but ultimately felt the Steelers were the best fit.

Within days he was taking most of the snaps at rookie mini-camp. When the veterans returned for OTAs a week later, reps became few and far between.

"There's been certain days when I'm getting more reps than others," Kay said. "At any point I could be taking five reps or I could be taking 25 reps. You've got to be prepared each day."

Even when he's not under center, Kay is taking mental reps. And who better to study than a two-time Super Bowl-winning quarterback.

"He's been doing it for a long time," Kay said of Roethlisberger. "He's great at what he does. I just get out there and try to absorb as much of what he's saying in meeting rooms and on the field."

If Kay is concerned about being the low man on the totem pole, it doesn't show. He learned a thing or two about sticking to the grind in college. Kay fought through three surgeries on his left knee at Cincinnati and was given a sixth year of eligibility after starting the second half of the 2012 season.

After fighting back from the injuries and winning the starting job, Kay was passed over by first-year Bearcats coach Tommy Tuberville heading into 2013 in favor of Munchie Legaux. Legaux led Cincinnati to a win against Purdue in the opener before a leg injury at Illinois ended his season.

Kay led the Bearcats to wins in eight of their next 11 games. He completed 66 percent of his passes and threw for more than 3,000 yards and 22 touchdowns on the season.

"I went through a lot of adversity [at Cincinnati]; I'm not fazed much by it," he said. "Just go in and work hard every day. That's what I did my entire time in college. That's what I'm going to continue to do."

The biggest adjustment for him has been being back in the huddle. Kay said he hasn't run an offense that huddles up between plays since high school. Plus the speed of the game is so much faster than college.

But whenever he has had questions, there have been three quarterbacks eager to give him advice.

"They've gone through the process of learning the offense," Kay said. "The biggest thing they've said is to just go out there and play football."

Sean Hammond: or 412-263-1466 and Twitter @sean_hammond.

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