The Pittsburgh Steelers are not expecting Mason Rudolph to be their starting quarterback any time soon, which is probably a good thing. The rookie third-round pick has been rough around the edges to say the least through his first two preseason games, turning the ball over or putting it on the ground on more than 10 percent of his dropbacks so far.
That’s not to say that he has looked bad. In fact, he has had quite a few positive moments during his first four quarters of play, including some impressive throws to James Washington and JuJu Smith-Schuster in Week One and Week Two, respectively, though he stared down the receiver in the case of the latter.
But the most important thing for the young quarterback right now is to be aware of what he’s experiencing and learning how to negotiate around it, and one thing he has never seemed to lack is awareness or the ability to communicate himself.
Rudolph knows that he struggled on Thursday night. But he’s also ready to put it behind him and move on to start getting better. He threw a pick six on his first pass, but as he said, “I couldn’t care less about the first pass. I’m thinking about the next pass”.
It’s worth noting that he did bring his team back, at first. The Steelers got into an early 14-0 hole, but Rudolph helped the offense tie the game at 14. Well, James Conner had a lot to do with that as well, admittedly.
“It happens”, he said of his struggles. “It happens at every level, high school, college. You just have to respond and play the next play. That’s the way I’ve always felt. I just went out there and played the next drive, clean slate, that’s the mindset”.
The most important thing that he said, in my opinion, was when he made the following realization: “I have to be more decisive on some snaps”. The rookie looked tentative early and often making his first NFL start, and he realizes that. It helps that his coach pretty much said the same thing at halftime as well, but still.
It’s not that the ‘moment was too big for him’, so to speak, a cliché that gets thrown around a lot. It wasn’t any sort of stage fright. If anything, it’s simply a learning curve. While he was a three-year starter, there is still a lot that he is learning about the game at the professional level, including an adjustment to working under center more.
The progress will come. I wouldn’t be surprised if we see a strong performance from him in the final preseason game. And the reason that I’m confident in what I will see from him in the future is because of what I hear from him now.