Throughout the 2020 offseason, the three main faces of the Pittsburgh Steelers front office— Team President Art Rooney II, General Manager Kevin Colbert, and Head Coach Mike Tomlin— have all gone on record about their confidence in Mason Rudolph as the Steelers back-up quarterback for the upcoming season. While many fans are quite skeptical of Rudolph after his struggles in 2019, the team has not wavered in their feelings of Rudolph to fulfill the role.
One of the biggest inhibitors with Rudolph for the 2019 season was he was thrust into action much sooner than anyone anticipated. A rookie in 2018, Rudolph reserved the third quarterback role for the entire season as he was not active for a single regular-season game for the Steelers. The Steelers used Josh Dobbs as their backup quarterback on game days as Dobbs had a year of experience on Rudolph as he had been the third quarterback the previous season. But for 2019, Rudolph and Dobbs switched roles as Rudolph earned the job to back up Ben Roethlisberger for the season.
Although 2019 was Rudolph’s second year in the NFL, many classified him more as a rookie. Being the third quarterback on the roster does not give a player much practice time during the regular season in order to gain experience. With the majority of the time for the quarterback going to the starter and then trying to get every valuable snap they can to prepare a back up, focusing on the third-string quarterback is not something most NFL teams can afford.
A prime example of a third quarterback not getting enough practice time occurred with the Steelers just last season. After Mason Rudolph replaced Devlin Hodges in Week 16 only to leave the game with a season-ending injury, some fans hoped the Steelers may start third-string quarterback Paxton Lynch. But in his weekly press conference, Head Coach Mike Tomlin admitted the team was not comfortable with going with Lynch due to his very limited amount of work with the team due to the nature of being the third quarterback. Throw in the fact the Steelers haven’t had an official quarterbacks coach for the last two seasons, the third person on the depth chart is not getting nearly the preparation needed in order to jump straight to being a starter.
After a rookie season in which Mason Rudolph got very limited practice time during the regular season, 2019 was supposed to be his year to learn and grow. Perhaps he might have been called into some spot duty throughout the season, but Rudolph was not expected to have to come into the game in his second regular-season contest in which he was active, let alone be the starter for the remainder of the season. In essence, Rudolph jumped from number three to number one in 1.5 regular season games.
2019 should have been a great opportunity for Rudolph. Getting more practice reps throughout the regular season would have been the most obvious plus. With Ben Roethlisberger taking at least one day off each week throughout the preseason and regular season, Rudolph was the prime candidate to take almost every other snap available. But instead of having a year with better opportunity for growth, Rudolph was cast into the fire very early.
While many Steelers’ fans are ready to complete the story on Rudolph as they have decided he will never even be an adequate back up for the NFL, there is a lot more potential for growth in his career. Should Ben Roethlisberger return to form and remain healthy for the majority of the 2020 season, Rudolph should be able to gain valuable practice experience and maybe play in some spot duties throughout the season. Add in the fact he has a quarterbacks coach for the upcoming season, Rudolph has a chance to grow even more than he would have in 2019.
I would find it very difficult to find a true Steelers’ fan who wants to see Rudolph have to come in and start an extensive number of games in the 2020 season. We are all pulling for the return of Ben Roethlisberger to lead the Steelers on another Super Bowl run. But if called in to limited duty along the way, hopefully Mason Rudolph can continue to grow throughout the season and help the Steelers in the event he has to be called upon. But if the perfect situation arises, hopefully Rudolph gets to learn throughout the season and can start in a meaningless game Week 17 in Cleveland.