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Exclusive with former Steelers QB Landry Jones

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Our Ron Lippock caught up with former Steelers quarterback Landry Jones, who just became the first player to sign in the 2020 version of the XFL.

First, congratulations on signing with the XFL – what drove the decision to sign there?

Well, we were going back and forth for quite a while. It was just a matter of time really. We just got to a place where both sides got together. It was something I wanted to do, to get back to playing again.

Do you know how the XFL rules differ from the NFL? I spoke with Jonathan Hayes who told me about having a specific ref for ball placement to speed up the game. Any others?

Oh yeah? I didn’t know that. That would be cool. That’s a good idea. I think they allow you to throw the ball behind the line and throw it forward again. I don’t think it’s anything drastically different. I’m just looking forward to playing again. I’ve been a backup for six years and didn’t see the field a whole bunch. That’s part of the gig, I know, but I want to play.

How difficult is that, knowing you have a guy like Ben Roethlisberger ahead of you? How do you deal with that frustration of not seeing the field much?

It’s not about it being hard or anything like that. It’s just, you put in all of the effort during the week but there’s no reward on Sundays. You want to win and be successful, but when you put in that effort you want that reward. You want to play. It can be frustrating, barely getting the chance to play.

Did the coaches talk to you at all about that and help you with that?

They didn’t say a whole lot, but that’s not their job either. Their job is getting guys ready to win games. I wouldn’t expect them to talk to me about that sort of thing.

Stepping back, were you surprised to be drafted by Pittsburgh in the first place? What did they tell you on draft day?

I was more surprised that I fell so far. That was much more surprising than the fact Pittsburgh drafted me. When I was drafted Mike Tomlin called me and asked if I wanted to be a Steeler. I was like, “Yeah, sure!” My mindset then was more, I just want to be drafted by somebody please.

Did anyone help mentor you as a rookie on or off the field? How, if so?

Bruce Gradowski was great. He was there for me all the time. We ended up living down the street from on another too. We got close. We became friends. That guy has a million cousins!

But as far as mentors, there’s no one there really holding your hand. Guys befriended you. It was more about that kind of thing: inviting you to dinner, regular friendships, that kind of stuff.

I spoke to Cody Wallace, who spilled the beans on some Nerf battles

Ha. Cody, me and Michael Palmer, we were all close. On away gams we’d pack our Nerf guns and barge into rooms and shoot guys up with them. We got into some fun fights with players — big wrestling matches. I remember when Mike Adams and David DeCastro roomed together, that was one of our bigger battles for sure!

Getting back to the XFL, what does success year one look like to you?

Oh wow. That’s a hard question and success is a tough term. Hard to measure. I think at this point I’m just looking forward to getting back to playing. So I’d say success for me is getting to play again.

It’s a draft process in the XFL right? Any city you’d care to play for most?

It is a draft yes. We all get put into a big pool for the draft. I’m sure they’re figuring some of that stuff out too. I don’t know who else they’ve been speaking to and plan to sign, but I’d love to play here in Dallas for Coach [Bob] Stoops.

Pretty cool being the first ever player signed by the XFL?

It is pretty cool. It’s a cool process getting involved at the ground floor of the league. If it takes off, that would be very cool. Football needs a good semi-pro type league that gets players more experience and gets them a chance to get some good tape on their play. And I’m encouraged by the league not just for that reason. There are a lot of good people involved in the league. Guys that know football. That’s another reason why I like this league so much too.

Backup quarterbacks often seem to be in tough situations when it comes to fan acceptance and appreciation. Did you get a sense of any of that fan heat during our time in Pittsburgh?

To be honest, I tried to do all I could to not pay attention and read anything or listen to anything. No Twitter, no Instagram, no reading Sporting News. I never read an article that left me feeling encouraged about anything, so I stopped reading any of it.

Do you think about going back to the NFL, with the XFL being a way to get that tape on your play as well?

Getting back to the NFL some day would be great, I guess. Being in the NFL was an awesome experience. But I don’t know about any of that right now. Right now I’m thinking about being here. I’m not thinking about the NFL right now.

I hardly played. Truly, I just want the chance to play right now. I was mostly sitting for six years. Right now I just want to play.

Lastly, what other memories of your time there stand out to you?

Most of the stuff I remember most and think about most are not about stuff that happened on the field. It was more about being with the guys I was close to, when all of us were getting ready. Once you’re on the field it’s all business.

The games against Baltimore were always me memorable, they were such a big rivalry. And games against New England were always big too, they always mattered a lot and were good games.

Steelers

Steelers Sign another from XFL, DE/LB Dewayne Hendrix

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The Steelers have signed former Pitt defensive end Dewayne Hendrix, Steelers Now has confirmed. The news of Hendrix’s signing was first reported by NFL Draft Diamonds.

Hendrix, 24, was most recently with the St. Louis Battlehawks of the XFL. He also spent time on the practice squad of the Jacksonville Jaguars, Chicago Bears and Miami Dolphins last season.

In five games with St. Louis, Hendrix made four tackles, one tackle for loss, one sack and one quarterback hurry.

A two-year starter at Pitt after transferring from Tennessee, Hendrix finished his Panthers career with 50 tackles, 10 tackles for a loss and 7.5 sacks. He played in 25 games total for Pitt from 2016-18 and made 24 starts.

Hendrix missed the 2016 season with a season-ending ankle injury suffered on the first series of the game. He sat out 2015 at Pitt after playing in seven games with the Volunteers as a true freshman.

At 6-foot-3 and 275 pounds, Hendrix played defensive end at Pitt, but could be more suited to be an outside linebacker in the Steelers’ 3-4 scheme. He’s essentially the same height and weight as starting outside linebacker Bud Dupree.

Hendrix is the fifth XFL alum the Steelers have signed, joining long snapper and linebacker Christian Kuntz, defensive end Cavon Walker, tackle Jarron Jones and safety Tyree Kinnel.

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Analysis

What to Expect from a 38-Year-Old Starting Quarterback

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On March 2nd, Ben Roethlisberger turned 38. When the NFL season starts in September, Ben will be 38 years old and entering his 17th year as the starting quarterback for the Pittsburgh Steelers. Even at this age, Ben is reaching rarefied air. Since 1969, there have been only 54 quarterbacks that played into their age 38 season. Of those 54, 46 of them started a game and just 22 finished the season with starts in more than half the games that season.

Discounting the fact that Roethlisberger is recovering from elbow surgery, what can we expect from a 38-year-old quarterback? Surprisingly, the answer is plenty.

From 1969-1999 quarterbacks playing in their age 38 season on average threw for 2,665 yards with 15 touchdowns against 14 interceptions. Not gaudy numbers, but some of that has to do with the eras in which these quarterbacks played. Even more encouraging, they had a 63% winning percentage.

From 1969-1999, five Hall of Fame quarterbacks played to age 38. Some experienced more success than others.

In 1978 Fran Tarkenton threw for 25 touchdowns and over 3,400 yards but tossed up 32 interceptions and went 8-7-1 on the season. In 1983, Ken Stabler went 7-7 at age 38, but threw 18 interceptions against only 9 touchdowns and fewer than 2,000 yards. Warren Moon went 9-6 in 1994, but had more interceptions (19) than touchdowns (18). In 1999, Dan Marino went 5-6 at age 38, throwing 12 touchdowns against 17 interceptions.

On the positive side, all-time great Joe Montana had 3,283 yards through the air and a 2:1 TD to INT ratio (18-9) with the Kansas City Chiefs in 1994 and John Elway won a Super Bowl in his age 38 season. Elway may have been relying on Terrell Davis at that time, but still put up nearly 3,000 yards along with 22 touchdowns and only 10 interceptions.

As sports science and training regimes have improved, it’s become more commonplace to find quarterbacks 38 and older still having success, or even dominating in the league.

In 2007, Brett Favre at 38 threw for over 4,000 yards and added 28 touchdowns to only 15 interceptions as the Packers went 13-3. Kurt Warner a year after his Super Bowl loss to the Steelers still had plenty in the tank at 38. The veteran quarterback started 15 games, going 10-5 with 3,753 yards, 26 touchdowns and 14 picks. Even journeyman Josh McCown put up 18 touchdowns to only 9 interceptions and 2,900 yards in his age 38 season.

As far as Roethlisberger’s direct contemporaries, Tom Brady, Peyton Manning and Drew Brees all put together superlative performances at age 38.

Peyton Manning, 4,727 yards, 39 TD, 15 INT (12-4)
Tom Brady, 4,770 yards, 36 TD, 7 INT (12-4)
Drew Brees, 4,334 yards, 23 TD, 8 INT (11-5)

However, depending on how you view Roethlisberger, a closer proxy may be former Chargers quarterback Phillip Rivers. Rivers’ age 38 season was statistically one of his worst as the team went 5-11. Rivers threw for 4,600 yards but threw nearly as many interceptions (20) as touchdowns (23).

What will Roethlisberger be like when he comes back? If history offers any clues, there’s no reason to think he can’t be a highly effective player on his return. Quarterbacks at his level in this era– i.e. future Hall of Famers–have historically had success at age 38 and beyond.

It’s impossible to predict when a player will “lose it”. But as long as his elbow is healed and there’s not a significant loss of arm strength, there’s no reason to think that Roethlisberger won’t be able to return to his per-injury, high-level of play.

NFL Quarterbacks at age 38, >7 starts, since 2000

PlayerYearAgeTmGGSCmpAttCmp%YdsTDIntPick6TD%Int%RateSkYdsSk%Y/AAY/AANY/AY/GWLT4QCGWD
Vinny Testaverde200138NYJ161626044158.962752151413.43.1775.3181223.90%6.245.495.01172106055
Rich Gannon200338OAK7712522555.561274642.71.7873.517907.00%5.665.44.6418225012
Brad Johnson200638MIN151427043961.5275091532.13.4272292006.20%6.265.144.39183.368023
Brett Favre200738GNB161635653566.544155281515.22.895.715932.70%7.777.557.18259.7133024
Jeff Garcia200838TAM121124437664.89271212613.21.690.2231005.80%7.217.136.4722665013
Kurt Warner200938ARI151533951366.083753261425.12.7393.2241724.50%7.327.16.46250.2105012
Kerry Collins201038TEN10716027857.551823148152.8882.213914.50%6.566.275.68182.325011
Jon Kitna201038DAL10920931865.7223651612353.7788.9211006.20%7.446.756.03236.545012
Peyton Manning201438DEN161639559766.164727391516.52.51101.5171182.80%7.928.097.68295.4124011
Tom Brady201538NWE161640262464.42477036725.81.12102.2382255.70%7.648.297.48298.1124022
Carson Palmer201738ARI7716426761.4219789713.42.6284.4221507.60%7.416.95.86282.634022
Josh McCown201738NYJ131326739767.2529261894.52.2794.5392648.90%7.377.266225.158012
Drew Brees201738NOR161638653672.01433423814.31.49103.9201453.60%8.098.277.71270.9115022
Philip Rivers201938LAC161639059165.994615232013.93.3888.5342225.40%7.817.066.32288.4511012

All data from Pro Football Reference

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Steelers

What Eric Ebron Can Bring to the Steelers

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When the Steelers signed free agent tight end Eric Ebron to a two-year, $12 million dollar deal, these kinds of performances probably helped convince them to make the offer.

The 6-foot-4, 253-pound tight end shows fantastic body control, great feet, and a penchant for making combat catches over multiple defenders. What’s not to like?

Over the past two seasons, the former 1st round pick of the Detroit Lions is 8th in receptions (97) and yards (1125) and first in touchdowns (17) amongst all tight ends.

Now the bad news. The kind of things you don’t see in highlight videos.

Ebron is last in the NFL over the last two seasons in catch percentage at just 59.9% (50 receptions minimum). That’s 10 points lower than Steelers starter Vance McDonald over the same time period. In 2019 with the Colts, Ebron took a major step back–which can be somewhat excused with Andrew Luck’s retirement–starting only two games. Ebron also had his receptions and yards halved from 2018, 66 to 31 and 750 to 375.

Obviously the Steelers are hoping to get the 2018 version of Ebron that racked up 14 touchdowns and 44 first downs and was sixth in the league in receptions and fifth in yards.

If Ebron can rediscover his red zone magic and thrive with a veteran quarterback like Ben Roethlisberger they could have a dynamic pair of tight ends between he and Vance McDonald.

A big if, but a healthy McDonald and a revitalized Ebron would give the Steelers a receiving tight end combination in the top echelon of the league at a cap hit of under $10,000,000 dollars.

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