PITTSBURGH (AP) — When he got the call from the Pittsburgh Steelers on Tuesday evening, Taryn Chistion was getting his hair cut.
Shaved clean near his ears and neck and faded into a less-cropped look on the top, Christion’s new ’do bears little resemblance to the bushier style Lamar Jackson adorns. But Christion spent his Wednesday doing his best imitation of Jackson anyway.
Added to the Steelers’ practice squad Wednesday afternoon, Christion quickly took to the practice field to serve as the scout team stand-in for Jackson, the Baltimore Ravens quarterback whom the Steelers will face in a crucial early-season AFC North game Sunday.
“I am more of a mobile quarterback, and they are playing the Ravens,” Christion said following the early-afternoon practice; he arrived at the Steelers’ facility just 10 minutes prior to its start. “So (Christion mimicked) Lamar Jackson just running around a little bit and slinging things on the scout team.”
During his weekly news conference Tuesday, Steelers coach Mike Tomlin gushed about Jackson, the 2016r Heisman Trophy winner and 2018 first-round draft pick who took over the Ravens’ offense late during his rookie season. Joe Flacco was still Baltimore’s starter during each of last year’s Steelers-Ravens matchups.
“It’s difficult to duplicate (the Ravens’) talents in preparation,” Tomlin said Tuesday, “because we don’t have a quarterback that looks like Lamar Jackson in terms of how he moves and throws and all of those things. So we’ll have some challenges there.”
The Steelers chose to address those challenges, in part, by bringing in Christion, who was something of a Jackson clone at the FCS level the past three-plus seasons for South Dakota State. Christion accounted for 131 touchdowns, 13,050 passing yards and 1,515 rushing yards in his college career. That’s more than comparable to the 119 touchdowns, 9,043 passing yards and 4,132 rushing yards Jackson put up in three seasons as the starter at Louisville – albeit against a higher level of competition.
“You can’t really replicate (Jackson in practice), but you can get as close as possible,” Steelers defensive back Mike Hilton said. “Having a guy that moves around and is able to keep plays going is going to be big for us. We know we have to have good rush lanes and keep him in the pocket.”
Christion and Jackson are the same height (6-foot-2), though Christion’s listed weight is 13 pounds heavier at 225. Jackson reportedly can run the 40-yard dash in less than 4.4 seconds, while Christion was timed in the sub-4.5 range. Each is known to have a strong arm; the knock on Christion was that he is not as accurate by NFL standards.
Christion spent a few spring weeks with the Seattle Seahawks as an undrafted free agent, and he spent training camp with the Dallas Cowboys. But he was training in Sioux Falls, South Dakota for the month before the Steelers called.
With starter Ben Roethlisberger out for the season following elbow surgery, the Steelers have three other quarterbacks ahead of Christion among their 64 signed players: 2019 starter Mason Rudolph and rookie Devlin Hodges on the active roster, and Denver’s 2016 first-round pick Paxton Lynch on the practice squad.
The organization, like most in the NFL, typically carries no more than three quarterbacks during the regular season. Christion said the Steelers did not give him any indication if he had a future in the organization or that his stay with the team would be only a one-week stand imitating Jackson.
Either way, Christion sounded content in approaching his temporary duties with gusto.
“I am not Lamar Jackson, but I am going to play hard and run fast and do those things,” said Christion, who added he was open to playing other positions. “But I am still going be me in a sense, too. Obviously, he’s an athletic quarterback, so I’m trying to give the guys a good look.”