Meet the New Steeler: QB Dustin Vaughan

12792774Unlike many series, which can go on for months, I’m feeling the pressure to get this one finished, because all too soon these articles may have to be titled “Meet the Former Steeler.”

But if some of these free agent signings make the practice squad, or even manage to make the roster, then there is the issue of who they replaced. Of course, in the end, the question is, which 53 guys are going to produce the best team, and that has to be the focus of the coaching staff. I can focus on more personal sorts of things.

I first heard Vaughan’s name back in May, when Mark Kaboly of the Tribune-Review tweeted the following:

 Since these long-time beat writers are pretty blasé, that’s probably a good thing. So let’s find out a bit about Mr. Vaughan. There’s plenty of personal and footbally stuff after the following video, but first you have to see what makes Vaughan perhaps my favorite free agent signing in a really long time. This is pure gold:

The video was made a few weeks before the 2014 Combine, when he found out he was invited. I’m sure it sent his stock soaring. Best comment on the video? “Uncle Rico.” But here’s the real scoop on him.

He played football at West Texas A&M. He was a three-year starter there, and set a school record by finishing with 10,525 passing yards and 123 touchdowns. He was not drafted in 2014, but was signed by the Cowboys, who put him on their roster as the third-string quarterback. Given Tony Romo’s injury history, that’s closer to the throne than it would be on many teams.

Apparently this was too sensible, however, because they cut him in early September, having decided to roll with just two quarterbacks. Two weeks later, Romo broke his collarbone and missed all of the 2016 season with the exception, randomly, of two games in late November. The three games started by Brandon Weeden were all losses, so the Cowboys, who had traded with the Bills to get Matt Cassel, put him in.

Cassel had the distinction of being the first quarterback in over 12 years, for any team, to throw an interception that was also flagged for intentional grounding. He was then benched for the Cowboy’s practice squad quarterback, Kellen Moore. It was not a good year for the Cowboys.

It wasn’t a great year for Vaughan either. After the Cowboys cut him and didn’t even try to sign him to their practice squad, he was out of a job until the Bills traded Cassel away. At that point they signed Vaughan to their practice squad, but cut him less than a month later so they could sign a wide receiver. Vaughan was out of a job until the Steelers came calling on January 22nd.

Vaughan played baseball and basketball in high school in addition to football. He appears to be another of the multi-faceted athletes the Steelers seem to be picking up recently. He’s also clearly a hard worker. In the fall of his senior year at WTA&M he was nominated for the 2013 National Football Foundation Scholar-Athlete Award. To qualify, candidates must be a senior or graduate student, have a grade-point average of at least 3.2 on a 4.0 scale, have outstanding football ability and have demonstrated strong leadership and citizenship.

Vaughan was a clear candidate, with a 3.85 GPA as a biology/pre-med major. He made the Dean’s List and President’s List for his entire career, and was the Lone Star Conference Academic Player of the Year in 2012 and 2013. He was also the Lone Star Conference Offensive Player of the Year for 2013.

As you can see, he hasn’t really had a lot of opportunity to showcase his abilities in the NFL. The question, as always, will his college production translate? Let’s look at what was being said about him before he was drafted.

Here are his strengths, according to his NFL draft profile (from 2014:)

Outstanding size. Good short-to-intermediate accuracy when he has time to set his feet and step into throws. Very intelligent. Superb leadership qualities and intangibles. Highly respected, vocal team leader. Very competitive. Urgent, demanding, on-field presence. Outstanding production. Tough and durable.

Alas, there’s always a catch.

Has small hands. Most balls are flat with little arc and not easily catchable. Plays in a spread-pistol offense operating exclusively out of the gun and featuring a lot of simple, one-look reads. Very average mobility to escape the rush and create plays in the pocket with his feet. Will force the ball under duress and needs to hone his decision-making. Is late to trigger and takes unnecessary sacks. Has not faced top competition and windows will tighten in the pros.

He was projected as a “priority free agent,” and in fact had interest from 20 teams prior to draft day. The Cowboys called him five minutes after the draft concluded, and he didn’t have to think long before signing in his home state.

I suspect he didn’t think about it for very long when the Steelers came calling after a two+ month hiatus. I found an interesting comment by his former college coach after the Cowboys picked him up:

Mike Nesbitt, Vaughan’s head coach at West Texas A&M, said of his former QB: “He’s not going to be your 1 or 2 right now. But I do think with experience and with time, he could turn out to be a starter in the NFL. But it’s going to take a team that has that kind of patience. He’s a hidden gem.”

If Vaughan gets that kind of time, at least with the Steelers, it will have to be at the expense of either Bruce Gradkowski or Landry Jones, unless the Steelers decide to stash him on the practice squad for a while. But now let’s see what he thinks about being a Steeler:

When you hear Steelers football, what do you think?
Tradition. You can’t get over the amount of Super Bowls the team has won over the years and the tremendous amount of tradition. When you come here you don’t want to screw that up, you just want to be a part of it.

It’s possible, of course, that as a Texas native the actual answer to that question was unprintable. Probably not, though. Vaughan clearly loves the game, and when you love the game you are going to love whoever gives you an opportunity. He also noted he desires to “use that platform to affect people off the field in a positive way.  ”

He’s obviously an honest guy. When asked who the quarterback or backs he desires to emulate are, he named Brett Favre and Roger Staubach, Favre because of his style of play, Staubach because of his character on and off the field. No sucking up to Ben, clearly.

I was also very interested in his answer to this question, as it gives us a snapshot into his thinking. As it happens, it connects well with what Ivan and I have been writing about this past week:

What motives you in football or in life?
First is God. God is huge in my life. If you take away football, I still have God, which is my single most important thing. As far as motivation off the field, it would be family. My wife is a huge motivation from that standpoint. Being able to come out here, work on the field and be a provider for my family. On the field, I think it’s just the competitive nature. I like being out here and competing against guys, against our team, but especially against other people. The team chemistry and camaraderie that you develop and the relationships that you develop with the guys on the team.

When asked about Steeler fans, he said “..all I know is what I’ve heard about the tremendous fan base and people [who] are diehard Steelers fans. So I’m excited to see what that’s like on the field.”

Welcome to Pittsburgh, Mr. Vaughan. Steeler Nation is just as interested to get a look at you as you are to get a look at us. See you in training camp, where I’m hoping to see a sweet shovel pass for a touchdown…



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