Jacobs' stats persuade Steelers to claim their third MAC quarterback

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As with fellow Mid-American Conference quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, Omar Jacobs figured an NFL team would draft him in the first round. He did not think that team would be the Steelers.

He was wrong on both counts. He was drafted in the fifth round, and it was the Steelers who did so. They did not draft Jacobs as their starter of the future, but Roethlisberger and Kordell Stewart, chosen on the second round in 1995, are the only Steelers quarterbacks drafted on a higher round than Jacobs in their past 16 draft classes.

None had the kind of statistics Jacobs compiled over the past two seasons at Bowling Green. He completed 66.9 percent of his passes in 2004 and, despite a shoulder injury, 60.7 last season. He threw for 6,593 yards in those two seasons with 67 touchdown passes and just 11 interceptions. That translated into a 113.48 passer rating over those two seasons.

"This kid put up some amazing statistics in productivity at Bowling Green," said Kevin Colbert, the Steelers' director of football operations. "We still think he has some improvement that can really come upon him at the pro level."

There's disagreement about whether he needs to change his unorthodox, three-quarters throwing motion. Jacobs stands 6 feet 4 (and weighs 224), a good height for an NFL quarterback. But some believe his lower release will allow defensive linemen to bat down more of his passes, a reason he wasn't drafted higher.

Coaches have not tinkered with Jacobs' motion much because he has been so accurate.

Mark Whipple, who coaches the Steelers' quarterbacks, said he won't become the first.

"You just ask, 'Does he throw a tight spiral?' I think in Pittsburgh, New England and the northeast that says something. He did, he threw a tight spiral.

"The ball should be easy for the receiver to catch. I'm not going to change that. He's 6-4 and he's a little low. I didn't see him get a whole lot of balls batted down on the tapes that I watched."

Whipple noted that a quarterback is not going to throw it over top anyway when 6-8 Max Starks plays tackle.

While disappointed to be drafted in the fifth round, Jacobs said he was not upset to go to the Steelers, where Roethlisberger figures to be the starting quarterback for another dozen years or so. Their experience last season showed why they kept three quarterbacks -- backups Charlie Batch and Tommy Maddox each started two games because of injuries.

"I'm prepared to learn," Jacobs said. "Just to be a guy and just to come in and compete. I'm a competitor and I'm going to compete for the job.

"Ben is a great quarterback. If I have to sit for a while, and, if my time comes, it will come. I think I have to be patient to some degree and I want to be patient in Pittsburgh."

Draft books surmised that Jacobs should have played his final season at Bowling Green because he would have benefited from the experience. Jacobs disagreed.

"Coming from my junior year, it was just me and Matt Leinart, the top two quarterbacks in the nation," Jacobs said. "I also looked at my offense. I lost two of my top receivers into the draft and two of my running backs, a center and a right tackle. And a lot of defensive players."

The Steelers drafted Jacobs instead of Toledo's Bruce Gradkowski because they believe he had more potential to improve because he came out early, and he also is nearly 3 inches taller. Jacobs' 64.5 career completion percent is second in MAC history to Gradkowski's 71.2 percent.

"With Bruce, he is a competitor and a great kid," Whipple said. "It was kind of more the size and that extra year. We aren't looking for him to come in and start, obviously."

Including Batch (Eastern Michigan), all three Steelers quarterbacks will come from the MAC, joining Cleveland's Charlie Frye (Akron), Jacksonville's Byron Leftwich (Marshall) and the New York Jets' Chad Pennington (Marshall) from the conference.

"By doing so well in the NFL, [they] helped guys like me out," Jacobs said.

NOTE -- Cornerback Ike Taylor yesterday signed his one-year tender of $1,573,000 the Steelers gave him as a restricted free agent. If he does not sign a new deal by March, he will become an unrestricted free agent.

MAC men

Quarterbacks who played in the Mid-American Conferencewho have been drafted in the NFL (since 1982).

Related Chart

MAC Men: Quarterbacks who played in the Mid-American Conference who have been draftd in the NFL in 1982.

 YearPlayerCollegeRoundThe Skinny1986Brian McClureBowling Green12Drafted by Bills, completed 20 of 38 passes for 181 yards as a replacement player during strike.1998Charlie BatchEastern Michigan2Started 48 games in 4 years for Lions, passing for more than 9,000 yards; currently Steelers’ backup.2000Chad PenningtonMarshall1Starter for Jets since 2002, passing for more than 8,000 yards; missed most of ’05 season with injury.2003Byron LeftwichMarshall1Became Jaguars’ starter in fourth game of ’03 season.2004Ben RoethlisbergerMiami, Ohio1Became Steelers’ starter in third game of rookie season; won Super Bowl XL this past season.2004Josh HarrisBowling Green6Drafted by the Ravens, now on Giants’ roster.2005Charlie FryeAkron3Started final five games of ’05 regular season; projected starter for Browns this season.2006Omar JacobsBowling Green5Will compete with Rod Rutherford for the No. 3 spot with the Steelers.2006Bruce GradkowskiToledo6Fits Tampa Bay’s scheme, Gruden says, and is “a guy we think has some upside.”

Ed Bouchette can be reached at ebouchette@post-gazette.com or 412-263-3878.


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