Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin once quipped that Landry Jones, his former backup quarterback, took more preseason snaps than any passer in the history of the NFL.
I don’t know if there was any validity to Tomlin’s statement, but if Jones really does hold some sort of preseason record, it doesn’t appear as if Mason Rudolph, Pittsburgh’s current backup quarterback, will ever break it. And that’s because he, like every other Steelers player in 2020, will go an entire training camp without preseason football due to the ongoing Coronavirus pandemic.
Unfortunately for those wondering how far Rudolph has progressed this offseason following a 2019 campaign in which he started eight games in place of an injured Ben Roethlisberger, we’ll never truly know.
Yes, it’s true that Tomlin has said many times what his players do in training camp often tells him just as much about their progress as what they do in preseason action. However, this is probably one time where some visual evidence in the form of in-stadium action would do Rudolph some good in terms of what his bosses think, what his critics think and, perhaps most importantly, what he thinks.
As Rudolph found out last season, filling in for a savior, a messiah, the franchise signal-caller, a future Hall of Famer, is never easy, especially when you don’t come in and quickly show that you have this whole starting quarterback in the NFL thing down.
Rudolph didn’t show much last year. This isn’t to say he showed that he was horrible—far from it. It’s just that he didn’t show that he could one day fill Roethlisberger’s enormous cleats when the big guy finally does decide to hang them up for good.
Again, he wasn’t horrible, but his stat-line that included 176 completions on 283 attempts for 1,765 yards, 13 touchdown passes and nine interceptions was very backup quarterback-like.
Big deal, Rudolph is a backup quarterback, right?
Apparently, those numbers were alarming for those who spent the entire offseason banging the drum for the Steelers to sign a more dependable alternative. And then there’s the elephant in the room which is the expectation that Rudolph, who the Steelers selected in the third round of the 2018 NFL Draft, could be the heir apparent at the quarterback position.
With zero preseason games to judge him by this summer, how is anyone going to ever be comfortable with Rudolph as the number two quarterback who is one snap away from having the fate of the 2020 season in his hands?
True, many young and unproven players will be in the same boat as Rudolph in the coming weeks, but the ones that actually make the team will have the opportunity to get their feet wet with some live action once the regular season begins in mid-September. As for Rudolph, he won’t know where he’s truly at as a third-year quarterback unless and until something happens to No. 7 (knocking on wood).
I’m a card-carrying member of Team Rudolph when it comes to the Steelers decision to stick with him as their backup, but I’m not going to know if I should let my membership expire until I see how much, if any, progress he’s made from his 2019 roller coaster experience.
If 2020 is a perfect world for the Pittsburgh Steelers, next summer will roll around and we still won’t know if Rudolph has made any progress as an NFL quarterback.
Neither will his bosses, his critics and, perhaps most importantly, Mason Rudolph.