Wilson Looks to Make the Cut
PITTSBURGH – John Parker Wilson has no designs on Ben Roethlisberger’s job.
A job, of any variety really, will be just fine for the fourth-string Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback.
The same goes for Curtis Painter, who spent eight mostly painful weeks filling in for Peyton Manning in Indianapolis in 2011 and now finds himself simply trying to extend his career somewhere on the New York Giants’ depth chart behind Eli Manning.
Long after the stars have exited the field during the preseason opener between the two teams on Saturday night, Wilson and Painter will trot onto it hoping to provide a glimpse of what could still be.
Entering his fifth NFL preseason, the 27-year-old Wilson knows the window of opportunity is closing. He has yet to throw a pass in a regular-season game and has spent most of his career bouncing back and forth between the practice squad and the last option on the 53-man roster.
Yet he’s still not ready to head back to Birmingham, Ala., and begin his post-football life. The former starting quarterback for Alabama knows there will be work back home whenever he steps away. He’s not quite there yet.
“We’ll cross that bridge when we get there,” Wilson said. “I’m focused on football.”
Namely, impressing coach Mike Tomlin enough to keep him around. It won’t be easy. The Steelers signed free agent Bruce Gradkowski to serve as Roethlisberger’s backup and drafted Landry Jones out of Oklahoma in the fourth round.
While the Steelers aren’t nearly ready to call Jones the eventual successor to Roethlisberger, he’ll be given every chance to succeed for a team that values its draft picks perhaps more than any other franchise in the NFL.
That part, Wilson allows, is out of his hands. The only thing he can control is what he puts on tape, both in practice and in games. He’d love to make a great impression on Saturday night. Just don’t expect him to do it by trying to turn himself into a Roethlisberger clone.
“That’s where I’ve gotten into trouble in the past,” Wilson said. “You can’t create stuff when it’s not there. You can’t go out there and try to throw three touchdowns a game if they’re not there.”
Wilson’s checklist includes making smart decisions and protecting the ball. Through the first two weeks of training camp, that much is clear. During one drill at Saint Vincent College on Friday, Wilson dropped back, found no one open and heaved a pass a good 20 yards over the back of the end zone. The ball rolled down a small incline and onto an adjacent practice field.
It wasn’t a touchdown. It wasn’t a turnover either. At the moment, that’s enough. It has to be since the coaching staff gives little to no feedback on why they do what they do. It makes trying to count who gets the most snaps a useless exercise.
“They have a million different reasons for how they do the reps they do and they don’t tell you,” Wilson said. “When they say ‘Hey JP, get in,’ I try to do my job.'”
It’s a mantra echoed by Painter. Unlike Wilson, however, Painter has discovered firsthand what it’s like to play on Sunday. And it’s not always pleasant. Drafted in the sixth round by Indianapolis in 2009, he spent two seasons holding a clipboard while Peyton Manning ran the show. Then Manning went down with a neck injury that kept him out during the entirety of 2011.
When Kerry Collins fizzled, Painter came on only to go 0-8 as a starter for the worst team in the league, throwing three more interceptions (nine) than touchdowns (six). The Colts drafted Andrew Luck the following April and Painter was gone. He signed with Baltimore but didn’t make it out of training camp. The Giants brought him in a couple days after the 2012 season ended.
Painter initially figured he would compete with David Carr for the right to play behind Eli Manning. Then the Giants drafted Ryan Nassib out of Syracuse. Suddenly, the numbers game became awfully tight.
“Anywhere you go there is going to be other quarterbacks,” Painter said. “Like I said, competition is not really in (my) mind. I am just trying to get better.”