NFL Nation: Jerrod Johnson

LAKE FOREST, Ill. – Bears head coach Marc Trestman confirmed on Saturday that veteran quarterback Jordan Palmer will receive the first shot to serve as the team’s primary backup behind starter Jay Cutler, and that Palmer, Jerrod Johnson and 2014 sixth-round draft choice David Fales are essentially battling for two open roster spots.

“I’ve talked to these guys clearly about where we are,” Trestman said. “I’ve told Jordan that he’s got the first shot and that the backup position hasn’t been won yet. I talked to Jordan about it yesterday. There’s a competition. Jordan has been here and deserves the first opportunity. But we’re not going to put anybody in that position until we have to. We have a long way to go."

Two of the quarterbacks, Johnson and Fales, spent Friday and Saturday taking part in the Bears’ three-day rookie minicamp where they’ve received constant instruction and feedback from Trestman, offensive coordinator Aaron Kromer, and position coach Matt Cavanaugh. Rookie minicamp is an especially challenging event for quarterbacks, who are required to learn brand-new terminology and plays while throwing the football to receivers they've just met.

“I’m looking to see how the quarterbacks handle themselves and how they work in-person,” Trestman said. “I’m looking to see how do they take direction from Matt, myself and from Aaron. How they call the plays and can they handle the verbiage quickly. They have to learn a lot every night because they are leaning something new every night. Then they have to come here and spit it out because it’s a completely different language. They have to not only say it, but also do it.

“It’s not easy. But I think you can see a lot. I think we got a lot out of the quarterbacks and saw that David can make that transition. The play was called and he immediately was able to spit it out in the huddle and do the physical aspects of it as well.”

Although the 6-foot-5, 251 pound Johnson has been learning the offense for several months, Fales thinks he already has a decent grasp on the scheme based on what he ran in college at San Jose State, where he passed for 8,382 yards, 66 touchdowns and 22 interceptions in two seasons.

“It’s a lot of exact same stuff I did both years at San Jose State,” Fales said. “Some of the terminology is the same, too. That’s an easier transition, although the playbook has been very base. But having that offense at San Jose definitely made it easier.”
While most of the attention focused on the Steelers getting the best guard available (Stanford's David DeCastro), they quietly made an important addition even before the draft began. Pittsburgh agreed to terms on a one-year deal with quarterback Byron Leftwich.

Bringing back Charlie Batch less than two weeks ago was an insurance policy if the Steelers couldn't keep Leftwich. Now, Leftwich is the favorite to be the primary backup to Ben Roethlisberger, as long as he remains healthy. He has started 49 games and passed for 10,260 yards and 58 touchdowns.

Leftwich, 32, is five years younger than Batch, and is a more viable option to lead an offense if Roethlisberger went down for an extended period. The Steelers have always preferred Leftwich to Batch. Leftwich was supposed to start for the suspended Roethlisberger in 2010, but he hurt his knee in the final preseason game. He was also projected to be the team's No. 2 quarterback last season before breaking his arm in the preseason.

The Steelers now have five quarterbacks on the roster: Roethlisberger, Leftwich, Batch, former Heisman Trophy winner Troy Smith, and Jerrod Johnson. Striking a deal with Leftwich decreases the chances of Pittsburgh drafting a quarterback in the later rounds.
The Baltimore Ravens are among three teams interested in Steelers free-agent quarterback Dennis Dixon, according to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. The St. Louis Rams and Denver Broncos are also in the running for Dixon, who is not expected to return to Pittsburgh.

The Ravens have been inconsistent in how they've addressed the backup quarterback position recently. In 2010, Baltimore spent $3.8 million on Marc Bulger to have veteran insurance behind Joe Flacco. In 2011, the Ravens went with rookie sixth-round pick Tyrod Taylor.

One reason why the Ravens could go with Bulger in 2010 was the uncapped year, but it's definitely a major philosophical switch to go from a playoff-tested quarterback in Bulger to a raw prospect like Taylor. Of course, Baltimore hasn't needed a backup, because Flacco has never missed a start in his four-year career (64 straight, the third-longest current streak in the NFL). But the Ravens' playoff chances would get decimated if Flacco got hurt, and the team had to turn to Taylor for an extended period.

Dixon, 27, the No. 3 quarterback last season for Pittsburgh, has made three career starts in his four seasons with the Steelers. He has a 2-1 record, with one touchdown and two interceptions. Dixon's first start came against the Ravens in 2009, when his interception in overtime set up the winning field goal.

Here are the backup quarterback situations for the rest of the AFC North:

BENGALS: Cincinnati is set with journeyman Bruce Gradkowski. When Andy Dalton was hurt in last year's season opener, Gradkowski rallied the Bengals to a 27-17 win at Cleveland.

BROWNS: At this point, the Browns are going with Seneca Wallace, the team's backup for the past two seasons. But the depth chart could get moved around if Cleveland drafts a quarterback in the early rounds. If the Browns don't take a quarterback, Wallace won't be competing with Colt McCoy for the starting job, the team said.

STEELERS: Besides Ben Roethlisberger, the only quarterbacks on the roster are Troy Smith and Jerrod Johnson. The Steelers likely will bring back Byron Leftwich or Charlie Batch. The favorite to return is Leftwich, who reportedly drew interest from the Colts.
The Carolina Panthers, just like every other team in the NFL, are out in force this week in Mobile, Ala. They’re there to watch Senior Bowl practices and they have coaches, front-office people and scouts watching the quarterbacks closely.

But it’s not very likely the Panthers are seeing anyone worth taking with the first overall pick in the draft at the Senior Bowl. Washington’s Jake Locker is probably the biggest name there and he’s considered a first-round pick by some draft experts, but he would need a huge week at the Senior Bowl and strong showings at the combine and in private workouts to have any shot at being No. 1 overall.

The top quarterbacks in this year’s draft are all coming out of college early and the Panthers will have to wait to see Missouri’s Blaine Gabbert, Auburn’s Cam Newton and Arkanas’ Ryan Mallett in person because only seniors are allowed to participate in the college all-star games. Carolina officials will have to wait until the combine or private workouts to see Gabbert, Newton and Mallett in action.

The other quarterbacks at the Senior Bowl are Iowa’s Ricky Stanzi, Nevada’s Colin Kaepernick, TCU’s Andy Dalton, Alabama’s Greg McElroy and Florida State’s Christian Ponder.

The Panthers also were at the East-West Shrine Game last week. The quarterbacks in that game were Delaware’s Patrick Devlin, Navy’s Ricky Dobbs, Virginia Tech’s Tyrod Taylor, Texas A&M’s Jerrod Johnson, Idaho’s Nathan Enderle and Wisconsin’s Scott Tolzien.




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