The Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback situation has always been a talking point in the Mike Tomlin era. Not as a team need, or as a deficiency, but in general. Fans always loved talking about Ben Roethlisberger, the disrespect he had been receiving for some random ranking done by ESPN, and what he will be capable of pulling off that particular season.
Entering the 2022 NFL season things are different, and all because for the first time since 2004 Roethlisberger won’t be a part of the organization. It still is crazy to consider, but for the first time since he was drafted by the Steelers, there will an open competition for the starting quarterback of the Pittsburgh Steelers.
How the organization handles the quarterback position is open for debate, and will continue to be a hot button topic throughout the offseason, but for the two quarterbacks who are likely to remain in-house candidates to replace Roethlisberger, Mason Rudolph and Dwayne Haskins, they are approaching this offseason with the vigor of knowing they have a legitimate shot at being the starter.
“It’s a great feeling,” Rudolph told media this about the opportunity. “All I want is a chance to compete and be the guy here. That seems like it’s more of a possibility now than ever. It’s very exciting and I am looking forward to the opportunity.
“I am a competitive person and I have a lot of confidence in myself. I think I can be the guy next year and that’s my plan. I want to be the guy. My goal is to look forward to when we come back here and control what I can control. I know that I am going to compete.
“It’s all I want. It’s all I ever wanted to be, a starting NFL quarterback. I think I can do it. I think I have what it takes. I think I am ready to get the opportunity again to prove myself. I understand what I put on tape up until this point there are still question marks on my game. I want to prove those people wrong. I want to prove myself to my teammates and the guys I really care about. It’s one day at a time. I am excited.
“It is encouraging to know I have as good a chance as any this year as opposed to the last four years when I had zero chance. That’s going to motivate me to put my best foot forward.”
It is usually at this point in the discussion when fans will point to Rudolph’s lackluster 2019 performance as a reason why the former Oklahoma State quarterback doesn’t have what it takes to get the job done at the NFL level. However, it should be noted how in 2019 Rudolph was essentially a rookie. In 2018, the year he was drafted, he didn’t dress for a single game behind both Roethlisberger and Landry Jones. In 2019, when Roethlisberger was lost for the season after Week 2, fans might remember Rudolph playing his best game vs. the Baltimore Ravens before being knocked out by safety Earl Thomas. After that hit, he had to battle his way back into the lineup, and was never the same.
Even though the 2019 campaign didn’t solidify Rudolph as the future starter of the Steelers, it wasn’t as if his experience was for nothing.
“The game experience that I have had, I think I’ve developed from 2019 when I had that stint of games,” said Rudolph. “Any time you don’t seize the opportunity fully there’s going to be question marks. I think playing in games, experience is the best teacher. Being the backup quarterback, there is value in that. You can treat it like each game is an opportunity to take mental notes, being in those conversations, along with the practice reps and the general football IQ that you gain and add to your repertoire. I look at that as a positive. That’s how I kept myself encouraged, you are getting to get a shot to play again at some point and you don’t want to look back and have wasted this time. You want to take strides and make yourself a better quarterback.
“I am not going to be anybody that I am not. Being a backup quarterback challenged me and made me treat the mental side of football with more reverence. I am going to be myself. If you talk to my teammates, they know who I am. They know I am a leader. I am excited to take that next step.”
As for Haskins, you couldn’t have a more stark contrast to Rudolph, as it pertains to the start of his professional career. Haskins was a first round draft pick by the Washington Football Team, and despite playing well at times his rookie season, fell out of favor with Ron Rivera before getting his outright release. After 2021, Haskins sees a positive in watching this past season and learning from Roethlisberger.
“I feel like I learned a lot from not playing this year,” Haskins said of the 2021 season. “Coach T, a lot of guys just wanted me to just have an opportunity to sit back and learn. I never really had a chance to get to learn the NFL game the way that it should be done and the way the Steelers want it done. They gave me an opportunity to understand the Steelers way of how they want their quarterbacks to operate. That was a great learning experience to be able to move forward this year and try to embody what it is to be a guy like Ben, take over a great franchise the way that he did.
“Anytime you get an opportunity to sit back and learn, you get to see what to do and what not to do. And I feel like I had a great chance this year to see what it’s like to be a leader. A guy like Ben, a Hall of Fame quarterback, guys have a lot of respect for him. Especially when we play other teams. Players on the opposing team showing a lot of gratitude and respect. I think that the best thing for me was being able to see it in practice every day. Some days, on Wednesdays, Ben would have a vet day. I was able to go with the ones, able to go against the first team defense, and it was a good experience as far as still being able to progress and get better. So, I got better this year even if I didn’t get a chance to play.”
When it comes to the opportunity given to Haskins at this stage of his career, an opportunity many never thought the former Ohio State quarterback would receive after his dismissal in Washington, he isn’t taking it for granted.
“I’ve wanted to be a quarterback my entire life,” said Haskins. “Being a quarterback for the Pittsburgh Steelers is a dream. I remember watching Ben Roethlisberger when I was a young kid in 2004 and watching him play. I always had great respect for the black and gold. Great respect for Coach Tomlin, 15 seasons with no losing season. I want to show him that I want this bad. I want to be a leader. I want to be a guy that people can rely on, on and off the field to be more than just a guy that can throw a ball, talented enough to be in a position where I can execute at a high level and keep the Steelers way.”
Whether either of these quarterbacks will be able to claim the starting quarterback role for the Steelers is up for debate. Also, how the organization handles the open position in terms of free agency and the 2022 NFL Draft will also weigh heavily on the outcome of the battle. In the meantime, you can assume these two players are the proverbial leaders in the clubhouse heading into the offseason.
Be sure to stay tuned to BTSC for the latest news and notes surrounding the Steelers as they prepare for what could be a wild offseason.