Steelers notebook: Jones impresses under the lights

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CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- Landry Jones has certainly proven one thing in his short tenure with the Steelers -- he plays better than he practices.

Jones, a record-setting quarterback at Oklahoma, never showed much at training camp at Saint Vincent College, overthrowing receivers and, at times, looking wildly inaccurate.

But there has been little, if any, resemblance to that player when Jones has been given a chance to play in preseason games. And he was given plenty of time to play in Thursday night's preseason finale against the Carolina Panthers.

Jones played the entire game and looked like a quarterback worthy of a fourth-round draft choice, passing for 133 yards and one touchdown in the first half. But Jones was disappointed the way the game ended, throwing three interceptions in the second half, including back to back in the third quarter.

"At the end of the day, you got to take care of the ball and not put your team in that," Jones said. "I just made some errant throws. It happens. I made some really bad decisions and, like I said, I can't put our team in that position."

With Ben Roethlisberger and Bruce Gradkowski watching from the sideline, Jones finished 16 of 35 for 189 yards. However, his passer rating was 36.5.

The Steelers have traditionally kept three quarterbacks on their 53-man roster and this year should be no exception. Jones, though, sounded as if he wasn't so sure.

"It was good to get in there and play for the whole game," he said. "I'm grateful the organization gave me the opportunity to play the whole game. We'll see where it goes."

The touchdown came on the opening series when he marched the offense 80 yards in eight plays, culminating the drive with a 13-yard touchdown to tight end David Paulson -- a play in which he found Paulson over the middle among three Panthers defenders.

In the second quarter, on third-and-5 from his 25, Jones stepped out of pressure and found receiver Derek Moye for a 32-yard gain to the Carolina 43.

On the first play of the following series, Jones connected again with Moye deep over the middle, this time for a 23-yard gain. Then, with time running out in the first half, Jones needed eight plays and a converted third-and-10 to set up Shaun Suisham's 37-yard field goal with four seconds left.

"I thought I moved around in the pocket well," Jones said. "There is a time to do that and a time to sit in there, and I was able to make some plays down the field."

Jones, though, did not look the same in the second half.

His first mistake came in the third quarter on third-and-2 at the Carolina 9 when his pass in the right flat for Moye was intercepted by cornerback Josh Norman and returned 70 yards to the Steelers 22, setting up a 40-yard field goal.

On the following series, he badly overthrew tight end Michael Palmer and safety Colin Jones made the interception.

"Some positive, some negative," said coach Mike Tomlin about Jones' performance. Then he added, "We'll see how he responds to that."

Punters continue to battle

The only battle for a starting spot is punter, where incumbent Drew Butler has displayed a stronger leg in training camp and mostly outperformed veteran Brian Moorman in preseason games.

Moorman, a three-time Pro Bowler and punter on the NFL's all-decade team for 2000, was brought in to challenge for the position after Butler averaged 43.8 yards and had a punt blocked as a rookie.

Butler had a better gross average in three preseason games (47.3), but Moorman had a better net average (37.9). But Butler has displayed a much stronger leg after putting on 14 pounds in the offseason and bulking up to 219 pounds.

"It's made a difference," Butler said of the added weight. "I can really tell a difference this year. My leg is much stronger."

Starters get a rest

The only defensive starters to play against the Panthers were end Ziggy Hood, nose tackle Steve McLendon, linebacker Jason Worilds and cornerback Cortez Allen.

The starters at linebacker were Chris Carter and Worilds on the outside and Marshall McFadden and Brian Rolle inside. The Steelers will probably keep eight linebackers, which means they will keep three out of a group of seven -- McFadden, Rolle, Kion Wilson and sixth-round pick Vince Williams on the inside and Carter, Alan Baxter and Terence Garvin on the outside.

On offense, the entire first-team line started, as well as backs Will Johnson and Jonathan Dwyer. Jones started at quarterback and Jerricho Cotchery and rookie Markus Wheaton were the receivers.

Former Pitt standout LaRod Stephens-Howling of Johnstown, who was brought in as a third-down back, returned after missing the previous two games with a sprain of the medial collateral ligament and gained 17 yards on third-and-14 on his first carry.

Receiver numbers

Because they have to carry at least one injured tight end (Heath Miller) and possibly another (Matt Spaeth) on their 53-man roster, the Steelers might begin the regular season with only four wide receivers, just as they did last year.

But, if they carry five receivers, Moye made a strong bid to oust rookie Justin Brown from that spot.

Moye, who was Brown's teammate at Penn State, had catches of 32 and 23 yards in the first half. Brown was drafted in the sixth round as a possible return specialist.

But he never distinguished himself in that area. He ran out of bounds on the first punt he fielded against the Panthers, then made a fair catch on a punt in which it appeared he had plenty of room to return.

Injury report

The only injury was to Will Johnson, who left the game with a hamstring injury in the first quarter and did not return. The extent of the injury was not known and Tomlin said he's being evaluated.


Gerry Dulac: and Twitter @gerrydulac. First Published August 30, 2013 4:30 AM


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