Training camp is right around the corner and like we have for the past few years, plan on being there for every single practice. Matthew Marczi has dutifully given us a low-down on most of the position groups already but with me going to St. Vincent in two weeks, I wanted to outline what I’m looking for from each player. We’ll start with the four quarterbacks on the roster.
Ben Roethlisberger: Obviously, he’s one of the stars on the roster we pretty much need to see nothing from aside from remaining healthy and ready to take the field Week One against Cleveland.
I’m sure much of the focus on him will center around his relationship with Mason Rudolph. Roethlisberger is normally pretty vocal with his teammates, taking a receiver aside at the end of a rep for a quick word, and I expect he’ll do similar with Rudolph and generally be a good teammate, which he hasn’t always been painted like in national media reports.
I’m interested in how much initial chemistry there is with James Washington, especially on the deep ball where both guys can excel. But beyond that, Ben is Ben, and you already know all there is to know.
Landry Jones: Jones is in a similar boat. He’s maxed out as a competent #2. Not great, not terrible. He’s intelligent, prepared like the A+ student in high school, and someone you can trust for a week or two. To his credit, he’s gotten so much better from his first and even his second camp, going from someone who looked like he didn’t even belong in an NFL organization to someone who has carved out a comfortable role.
Jones’ reps figure to be relatively limited again; last year by injury, this year by the desire to get long looks at Rudolph and Josh Dobbs. Jones also figures to be a teacher to those two, especially with Randy Fichtner pulling double-duty as the OC and QB coach.
Josh Dobbs: Dobbs had an impressive training camp last year, which was a surprise, though he cooled down in the games, which wasn’t, sans a preseason finale comeback versus the Carolina Panthers. I guess the best way to describe what I saw from him was unusual poise for a mid-round quarterback. He had an internal clock that took Jones three years to develop, he was detail-oriented, didn’t force the football, and showed proper placement downfield.
Getting an unexpected amount of reps (192 passes, most of any QB) probably helped him too, serving as the #2 most days when either Roethlisberger got a day off or Jones was out with his injury, missing most of camp. Those reps could go down in year two, but I’m uncertain how the Steelers are going to let it play out this time around with the position muddied compared to last.
Stats alone can’t tell the entire story but Dobbs had a terrible completion percentage in camp (57% – the worst I’ve ever charted) that wasn’t much better in-game (59.4%). That can be attributed to several factors, most of the guys he’s throwing to are new to the offense as well, but you would expect that number to rise in his sophomore season. More consistent play, better accuracy to all areas of the field, a guy who won’t make the silly mistakes rookies are prone to.
Not that I am anticipating it being an issue but I want to make sure Dobbs doesn’t try to do too much during the preseason, knowing the tough situation he’s in that didn’t exist a year ago. Last year, he was a lock to make the roster so inherently, there wasn’t as much pressure. This year, most would assume he’s outside-looking-in at the start. He’s just gotta play his game, take advantage of every rep he gets, and not try to “wow” on every throw, even if that means throwing the checkdown to Fitzgerald Toussaint or hitting Jesse James in the flat, even if you really want to rip the ball downfield.
Quarterback play is all about making a profit, making good decisions on a down-to-down basis. If he does that, something good is going to happen with him. Even if that is somewhere other than Pittsburgh.
Mason Rudolph: He’s a rookie quarterback so the answer of “what to look for” is everything. It’s a clean slate. We’ve dissected him every which way during the offseason. That info, to me, is immensely important to understand who he was in college, and who the Steelers might be getting in the NFL but once he takes his first snap in Latrobe, throw it all out the window. It doesn’t matter. I don’t use Pitt tape to judge James Conner anymore, I won’t use Oklahoma State footage to judge Rudolph. That got him drafted. Nothing more.
So rookie quarterbacks, a first-round pick, UDFA, it doesn’t matter, all have to do the same thing. It begins with the foundation. Limited botched center/quarterback exchanges, quarterback/running back handoffs, taking care of the football, getting it out quickly, going through reads, processing information. All very boring, all very cliche, all incredibly important. But if he wants to jump Jones as the #2, something that is possible, those are the things he MUST do, long before we begin talking about any of the glitz and glamour of the position.
Even moreso than Dobbs, Rudolph should get a ton of playing time in the preseason. A good thing because the preseason is just about the only time you can expect to see him over the next three years. It’s an important first step and I can’t wait to see it.