2018 was a year of beginnings for Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Mason Rudolph, as well as for his position coach, Randy Fichtner. Rudolph, of course, was a rookie. Fichtner, meanwhile, was transitioning into a new role as offensive coordinator while retaining his quarterbacks coach job. Both of them had their growing pains to go through, though would some key differences.
For one thing, Fichtner had already been in the league, and on the team, for over a decade. Rudolph was making a major life change entering the professional workspace for the first time. and Fichtner didn’t have to compete for a role. Rudolph was part of a trio of quarterback trying to win the backup job. He made the roster, based on his pedigree, but sat on the bench.
Both of them see more for themselves, and for each other, in their second seasons in their respective roles. But while Fichtner expects to see Rudolph content with Joshua Dobbs for the backup job, he also sees that role as one that is and has always been up for grabs.
“To me, that position is always going to be open no matter who is here”, the offensive coordinator said yesterday, according to Will Graves of the Associated Press. “That battle is every single day trying to put us in the best position when if Ben is not in the game, that we have put the right guy in to give us a chance to win the game”.
Dobbs had to be called in last season in two meaningful spots, first in a game against the Baltimore Ravens. He played just one snap, a second and very long—I want to say 22 yards—near his own goal line, completing a pass for one more yard than needed before giving way again to Ben Roethlisberger. His more extended performance against the Oakland Raiders later in the season left much to be desired.
Prior to 2013, the Steelers had preferred to use proven, reliable veterans as their backups, for the most part, with the occasional exception of a Dennis Dixon here and there. Charlie Batch, Byron Leftwich, and Bruce Gradkowski have been the primary players spelling Roethlisberger over the course of his long career.
That changed in the year mentioned when they drafted Landry Jones, who would take a few years to develop into a competent backup. Then they drafted Dobbs in 2017, sitting on the bench as a rookie before they added Rudolph, the first prospect since Roethlisberger that they really viewed as a potential long-term starter based on grade.
Even Rudolph knows that starting is not on his immediate horizon, of course, with Roethlisberger under contract for three more years. The best he can hope to do this year is earn the backup job and be that player who is one snap away from playing and getting a shot to prove himself.