Mason Rudolph’s first career start surely didn’t exactly go the way that he wanted it to. While it could have been worse, for sure, it could also have been much better. And with the way that it started, it only could have gone up from there for the Pittsburgh Steelers’ rookie quarterback.
On the very first play of the game, Rudolph looked for Darrius Heyward-Bey on a short out to the left side, but veteran defensive back Tramon Williams was lurking, ready to pounce on the pass. When it came, he did just that, intercepting it and returning it the 25 or so yards for the touchdown, putting the Steelers in a deficit in the first 15 seconds of the contest.
He would respond, ultimately leading the offense to two touchdowns in the first half—well, one of them, as James Conner led them on the other one, accounting for the entirety of the team’s yardage from their own 27-yard line to the end zone. He connected with JuJu Smith-Schuster for his first and so far only professional touchdown.
While he knows that he still has a long way to go, however, he is not one to pass up a learning opportunity, and he found last night’s start very helpful and informative. “Just getting that experience with the first-team guys is priceless, I think”, he said. “It’s just still early on, the second game. It was fun to be out there, just working with a different group of guys that are more experienced and have a lot of knowledge and a lot of wisdom”.
Rudolph got his first snaps of the preseason working with the ‘first-team’ offense. Last week, he was the last of three quarterbacks to play, and by then he was dealing primarily with third-string participants, though it did feature his college teammate, James Washington.
He finished the game completing just five of 12 passes for 47 yards, connecting on one touchdown and throwing the interception. He took multiple sacks that could have been avoided, one of which resulted in him fumbling the football, though he also recovered it.
It will all be a learning experience for Rudolph, which of course at this time of year is precisely the point. The statistics don’t matter right now. It’s about what you do on every rep that you take and how you learn from it. The pick six, like the touchdown pass, was just one play of many.
“The tape, I’ll learn from the mistakes in the second quarter there, and the first play”, he said. “We’ll respond and continue to make strides”.
While he still has a long way to go with his on-field work, he has handled himself like a veteran from day one with the way that he carries himself. He has natural leadership qualities that will serve him well. But his on-field performance is still a work in progress to say the least.