The Pittsburgh Steelers are preparing for the Carolina Panthers in Week 15, and there is a huge question surrounding who the black-and-gold will have under center when they make the trek to Charlotte, NC.
The health of rookie quarterback Kenny Pickett will be significant, as he continues to work his way through the NFL’s concussion protocol. Pickett was limited in practice Wednesday, and his status will remain unknown until later in the week. With Pickett being limited, the Steelers split reps at starting quarterback between Mason Rudolph and Mitch Trubisky, just as Mike Tomlin said they would on Tuesday during his press conference.
Rudolph spoke to the media Wednesday, and said he’d be ready if his number was called, but he had no inclination as to who the team would start if/when they wouldn’t have Pickett ready.
While Rudolph is playing it safe, one of his receivers certainly isn’t. Diontae Johnson made it clear he supports having Rudolph under center vs. the Panthers this Sunday, and he didn’t mince words when he was asked if he’d rather see Rudolph at quarterback.
Check out the video below, per Brian Batko of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette:
Steelers WR Diontae Johnson said he’d like to see Mason Rudolph play this week, but I didn’t interpret it as an either/or thing with Mitch Trubisky. More of a general support for a longtime teammate. See for yourself (and what he had to say about his touchdown slump). pic.twitter.com/5YlpWbwfv7— Brian Batko (@BrianBatko) December 15, 2022
For those who can’t, or choose not to, watch the above video, here is what Johnson said when asked if he’d like to see Rudolph at quarterback:
“Yeah, I want to see him play. I know he’s ready to play. I know it’s probably in the back of his mind, like, getting my chance. I feel like this week is it for him, so he’s going to do every it takes to prepare this week and be ready for Sunday.”
When you look at Johnson’s career stats, it’s no wonder he is hoping Rudolph starts. During their time together in 2019, Johnson, as a rookie, showed a great rapport with Rudolph at the helm during the tumultuous year with Rudolph and Devlin “Duck” Hodges taking over for an injured Ben Roethlisberger.
This season hasn’t been great for Johnson, and the most veteran of the Steelers’ wide receivers has yet to score a touchdown. Does this bother him? Yes, and no.
“I’m trying.” Johnson said. “This is the longest I’ve ever been without scoring. I’m thinking about it, but at the same time I don’t because I’m just trying to help the team win games. Do anything I can to help the team at this point. It’s a team game, and I’m just trying to be that team player.”
Either way, when it comes to criticism of his comments, Johnson certainly didn’t play it safe on Thursday. Instead of giving support for whoever the coaches decide to start, he put his support solely behind Rudolph. An interesting move for a player who has been fairly polarizing throughout the 2022 regular season.
Will Rudolph start Sunday? A lot will depend on the status of Kenny Pickett, and the Thursday and Friday injury reports will ultimately tell that tale. Be sure to stay tuned to BTSC for the latest news and notes surrounding the Steelers as they prepare for the Panthers this Sunday in Week 15.