When the Pittsburgh Steelers drafted Mason Rudolph back in the spring, a lot of assumptions were made by a lot of people. Some of them conflicted between one another, but the point is that it began a chain reaction of thoughts that have pretty much built up to where we are now.
The biggest question that affects the 2018 season was this: who is going to be Ben Roethlisberger’s backup? And the truth is that there was only ever one realistic answer: Landry Jones. Head Coach Mike Tomlin explained why ahead of the team’s victory over the Tennessee Titans on Saturday.
Tomlin was asked specifically to define “the qualities of a good NFL backup quarterback”, and he gave a clear answer to that question. “He’s a guy who can perform to an acceptable level with limited preparation from a physical reps standpoint and that’s just the reality of it”, he said.
Mason Rudolph was not going to be ready to do that this season. Joshua Dobbs, even in his second season, was probably going to struggle to do that, as well. Both of them are very young players and Dobbs especially has a number of mechanical elements of his game that need work, and in order to work on them, he needs to take reps.
As Tomlin explained, the workload of a backup quarterback in the NFL is “the reps that the starter does not want or need from a preparations standpoint”. Basically, it’s the scraps. And more often than not, even with a quarterback like Roethlisberger who in his later years takes some scheduled sessions off, that is not going to be many opportunities throughout the week.
Up to this point in their careers, neither Dobbs nor Rudolph have given the indication that they would have the capacity to ‘perform to an acceptable level with limited preparation from a physical reps standpoint’. The only one on the roster capable of doing that is Jones.
While Tomlin admitted that “you’d like to have a guy who has a tremendous upside who’s going to be a future starter and all of those things”, he said that ultimately “the base minimum requirements of the job can best be described as being a guy who can perform to an acceptable level with a minimal number of reps”.
The head coach was asked of Jones fits that description, to which he replied, “there’s no question”, saying that he has “seen him do it”. To that point, Jones has only played in two preseason games so far this year, logging a mere 24 snaps, which is significantly fewer than either Dobbs or Rudolph have seen.
So the reason that Jones is not playing much is the same reason that they are comfortable with him being their backup. They know what he can do and how much work he needs because they have already seen what he can deliver in that capacity. It’s important to remember that, probably more often than not, backups have to come into a game off the bench, cold. They don’t always get to start a week later after days of first-team reps and preparation.