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Roster Spots On The Line For Panthers And Steelers

WILL GRAVES, AP Sports Writer
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(Photo by Grant Halverson/Getty Images)

(Photo by Grant Halverson/Getty Images)

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PITTSBURGH (AP) — Joe Webb has a job beyond the weekend.

Landry Jones would like one too.

Whether the Pittsburgh Steelers’ third-string quarterback gets to stick around beyond the weekend could depend on how he fares in Thursday night’s preseason finale against Webb and the Carolina Panthers.

“I need to see consistent above-the-line play in all areas,” Steelers coach Mike Tomlin said when asked about the former Oklahoma star’s status.

That hasn’t exactly happened during another bumpy training camp for the former fourth-round pick. Jones appears much improved in practice, hitting open receivers and hanging tough despite often running the scout team against the starting defense.

It just hasn’t translated into games. Jones is just 13 of 26 for 127 yards and an interception this month. Not exactly a compelling case to make Jones the backup behind Ben Roethlisberger.

Jones has put little heat on veteran Bruce Gradkowski, meaning his best shot at surviving when the rosters are trimmed to 53 players is convincing the coaching staff three quarterbacks are better than two.

“It’s a work in progress and it is what it is right now, I’m just excited about Thursday,” Jones said.

He won’t lack for reps. Roethlisberger will spend the game wearing a baseball cap and Gradkowski may only make a cameo before joining Roethlisberger on the sideline. There’s a chance Jones will at least have the luxury of working with a handful of starters as the Steelers (1-2) try to build something resembling momentum heading into the season opener against Cleveland.

“I think it’s important that you finish on the upswing,” Tomlin said.

The Panthers (1-2) are searching for the same thing. Like Pittsburgh, Carolina has been a mixed bag during August. The starters looked outclassed in a loss to New England last week and quarterback Cam Newton sustained a rib injury that ended even the faintest notion he would play this week.

Newton insists he’ll be fine when the Panthers travel to Tampa Bay on Sept. 7.

“I’m going to continue to come in and get as much treatment as possible so my body will be 100 percent,” Newton said.

Backup Derek Anderson spent Wednesday awaiting the birth of a child, leaving Webb as the only quarterback left. Webb signed as a free agent in the offseason after four erratic years in Minnesota, where he started four games and later saw time at wide receiver.

Rivera plans to keep Webb around just in case Newton’s ribs don’t heal as quickly as hoped. Webb can turn an extended tryout into something more substantial with solid play on Thursday.

“I know I’m not only performing for the Carolina Panthers, but for 31 other teams out there,” Webb said. “Pretty much your game film is your resume and you want to put your best performance on it.”

Webb will face a few more defensive starters than normal this time of year as the Steelers attempt to bounce back from an abysmal showing last week against Philadelphia.

The Eagles churned out 24 points against Pittsburgh’s first string and Tomlin said he plans to make sure guys who need reps get them.

That list includes defensive end Brett Keisel, who returned to the Steelers last week. Keisel watched the debacle in Philadelphia in sweatpants. He’ll have his familiar No. 99 on his back this week.

“I’m interested in taking him to the deep end of the pool to see if he can swim a little bit,” Tomlin said of the 35-year-old Keisel. “We’ll see how he does.”

Even if all Keisel can do right now is doggie paddle, he’ll be around come Monday. The same can’t be said for the 22 players on each side who won’t survive the roster cuts. To them, the notion Thursday night is a meaningless exercise is silly.

And Tomlin couldn’t agree more. He stressed his mind isn’t made up on who will be in the locker room when things start to get real. Tomlin pointed to wide receiver Derek Moye as an example.

A year ago Moye was “on the outside looking in” only to earn a roster spot with stellar play against the Panthers.

“Sometimes you have to study the history of this game and this series specifically to provide information for men so that they can know that they have a legitimate opportunity to help themselves,” Tomlin said. “Some of the examples of that opportunity are sitting in the room with them.”

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AP Sports Writer Steve Reed in Charlotte, North Carolina, contributed to this report.

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AP NFL website: http://www.pro32.ap.org and http://www.twitter.com/AP_NFL .

Copyright 2014 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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