Are you ready to see Pittsburgh Steelers rookie quarterback Mason Rudolph make his NFL debut Thursday night in the team’s 2018 preseason opener against the Philadelphia Eagles? After watching every college pass attempt of his this offseason and hearing the early reports out of training camp on the Oklahoma State product, I know I am. While the current plan is for Rudolph to indeed play Thursday night against the Eagles, we still don’t know when he’ll be inserted into that contest and how much action he’ll ultimately see.
During his Tuesday press conference at Saint Vincent College in Latrobe, Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin was once again asked to evaluate the Rudolph’s progress so far during training camp.
“Mason’s done a really good job, but again, he hadn’t been hit, you know,” Tomlin said. “There will be attempts to hit him on Thursday night so stay tuned, man. That’s another one of the reasons why this is weighted differently. An offense’s ability to maintain possession of the ball, or ball security, is much more difficult in stadium than it is in a training camp environment because a training camp environment is controlled in a lot of ways. You don’t touch or get close to the quarterback, for instance. And so a quarterback’s ability to secure the football really doesn’t get tested until they play preseason football in stadium. That’s why these opportunities are so precious because that is a big element of the evaluation process of the position.”
Rudolph, who was selected in the third-round by the Steelers this year, talked a little Tuesday morning about his quickly approaching NFL debut.
“I think, obviously, you dream about playing with the NFL, but once you get here, you take it one day at a time,” Rudolph said, according to Rich Walsh of KDKA-TV. “I think that’s the way I’ve approached practices, it’s gone well. Coach T [Tomlin] talks about living in the moment and not looking ahead, obviously just control what you can control in the moment in that period, in team, in seven on and work through the next day. So, that’s the way I’m looking at it, that’s the way I’ve always looked at it.”
In case you need a quick reminder, Steelers starting quarterback Ben Roethlisberger made his NFL debut way back in 2004 in the team’s first preseason game against the Detroit Lions. He followed then starting quarterback Tommy Maddox into that game in the second quarter and completed 8 of his 13 total pass attempts for 84 yards and a touchdown. He also wasn’t sacked in that contest and played through the midway point of the third quarter before being relived by Brian St. Pierre.
Current Steelers backup quarterback Landry Jones, who will likely start Thursday night against the Eagles, made his NFL debut in the team’s 2013 preseason opener against the New York Giants. He started the second half of that contest after Roethlisberger and then-backup Bruce Gradkowski were both done for the night and proceeded to complete 5 of his 9 total pass attempts for 48 yards. His first offensive snap in that game, however, was a failed hand-off to running back Baron Batch due to a missed assignment and while Jones recovered the fumbled football quickly, he was tackled in the end zone for a safety.
Last year, then-rookie quarterback Joshua Dobbs started the Steelers preseason opener against the Giants and ultimately completed 8 of his 15 total pass attempts for 100 yards with a touchdown and two interceptions. He played well into the third quarter of that contest before finally being relieved by Bart Houston.
Here’s to hoping that Rudolph’s debut Thursday night against the Eagles is more in line with Roethlisberger’s than with Jones’ and Dobbs’ first outings. Even if it is or isn’t, or is somewhere in between, it will be important not to overreact to how Rudolph plays in Philadelphia. we’ll break down his performance as objectively as we can and move on without drawing any hard conclusions.