It’s the most important position on the football field. NFL teams invest millions upon millions of dollars to employ the best quarterbacks to run their offense to have a greatest chance of success. Although championships have been won with less-than-stellar quarterback play, they are more the exception than the rule. There are very few NFL teams that feel they can make a push for a championship without a high-quality quarterback.
Since 2004, the Pittsburgh Steelers have had such a quarterback. Drafted with the 11th overall pick in the 2004 NFL draft, Ben Roethlisberger was thrust into action in his second regular-season NFL game and never looked back. With two Super Bowl championships to his name, albeit with one coming from a less-than-average performance, Ben Roethlisberger has just about every quarterback record in Pittsburgh.
But even with Roethlisberger running the offense, for years many Steelers fans have been looking at the next man on the depth chart to see who will be able to fill the shoes of number seven once he rides off into the sunset. Yes, it’s great when a team has a plan and has the next guy in place. But this isn’t always how it works out in the NFL. In fact, it’s quite rare.
Season after season I have heard Steelers’ fans complain about backup quarterback Landry Jones and how he’s not the next guy. They were exactly right. He wasn’t the next guy and he was never going to be the next guy. Sometimes a backup quarterback is simply as his name implies: a back up quarterback. It’s not always the next guy to take over.
This was obviously the case early on in Roethlisberger‘s career when the Steelers had one of their greatest backup quarterbacks in the eyes of many fans in Charlie Batch. He was simply the backup. The job of the backup quarterback was to fill-in when needed when the franchise QB was not available and not have the team incapable of winning games. This has been what the Steelers have been able to accomplish without Ben Roethlisberger, for the most part, when he was unavailable throughout his career. Even the dreaded 2019 season, the Steelers managed to go 8–6 with a combination of Mason Rudolph and Devlin Hodges.
But as Ben Roethlisberger‘s career is at a point where any season could be his last, it leaves many fans looking to the future. With Roethlisberger working out a contract this past offseason where he took a pay cut and did not add any years to the deal where he’s under contract, many are still looking for this to be the last go for Big Ben.
With the Steelers also giving an extension to fourth-year quarterback Mason Rudolph as well as signing former first-round pick Dwayne Haskins during the 2021 offseason, it seemed as if this preseason was a prime place to look for who could be the future, even if it is only brief, at the Steelers quarterback position post-Ben Roethlisberger.
As the Steelers got quality play mixed in with times of struggle, much of Steelers’ Nation feels that the quarterback situation for the 2022 season was not answered this August.
Yes, it would have been fantastic if the Steelers found a quarterback in waiting in either an improved Mason Rudolph or a revived Dwayne Haskins. But through four preseason games, this was not an obvious conclusion to draw.
What the Steelers ultimately need for the 2021 season is a backup quarterback. By all indications, it seems that they are blessed with two players who could fill the role. The fact that neither one of them has stepped up to show that he will be the next quarterback leading this team beyond Ben Roethlisberger isn’t nearly as important as having a player that could fill-in for a game or two, either from the start or coming off the bench, and still give the Steelers a chance at victory.
In one of his many press conferences throughout training camp in the preseason, Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin was asked about if the 2022 season comes into play when looking at his quarterbacks and the distribution of snaps in preseason games. Not to give a direct quote, the short answer was “no.”
The Steelers were looking for the quarterbacks on the roster this year to be the players that could be a backup quarterback. If they are going to develop into something more, that development will continue throughout the 2021 season and in the Steelers weekly preparation for games.
Of course the fans want to know who the next quarterback is. It might be one of the players on their roster who is going to take the next step in the future. It might be someone who’s playing on Saturdays right now. In fact, five years ago when Steelers’ fans were worried about the same question, the answer was if the player was possibly playing on Friday nights, meeting they were still in high school.
We have broken down and discussed Mason Rudolph and Dwayne Haskins for months. We have seen them appear in three or four preseason games. Heck, even when Ben Roethlisberger saw his only action of the preseason many fans still wanted to focus on Rudolph and Haskins. But now it’s time for the regular season. Now the Steelers have backup quarterbacks to make sure they are ready to come in at a moments notice. The worries of the 2022 season still comes after 17 regular-season games and any possibility of an NFL postseason.
For now, the quarterbacks on the Steelers roster not named Ben Roethlisberger are backup quarterbacks. They are everything that their name implies. Whether they move beyond that in the future will be determined. But for now, it’s best to let them be what they are and work hard to become something more.