When you have a first-round draft grade on a player, regardless of where you drafted him—if you even acquired him in the draft—you expect him to be good. The Pittsburgh Steelers actually pretty much acknowledged that they had a first-round grade on quarterback Mason Rudolph, whom they drafted in the third round a year ago.
While he is firmly entrenched behind Ben Roethlisberger of course, who is under contract for the length of Rudolph’s rookie contract, the Oklahoma State product still has the opportunity to move up this season, trying to take the backup role away from Joshua Dobbs, who did the same to Landry Jones last year, in his own second season.
Dobbs showed significant growth from his first offseason to his second, and the Steelers expect similar from their other young quarterback over the course of the next few months. Rudolph has already drawn some praise, in fact, including from offensive coordinator Randy Fichtner, who said that he looks “a lot more comfortable” than a season ago and also praised hi improved communication.
“It’s easier just to see him break the huddle and feel confident about what he called”, the offensive coordinator said. “There’s a lot of thinking that goes on. Make no mistake that any quarterback in this league that plays as a young guy coming in the league, there’s a transition time. And for him, I’m thankful that he has that transition time”.
Fichtner caught himself on that last statement, qualifying it. “Unfortunately”, he said, “he really doesn’t, because he’s got to try to be the backup, right now. I want him to be the backup. But I want Josh to be the backup too”.
Really, at the end of the day, it’s a good problem to have when you don’t know which of your two young backup quarterbacks is going to be just that much better than the other one to win the backup job. The Steelers wouldn’t have drafted Rudolph if they didn’t believe he had a higher ceiling than Dobbs, but the playing field evens out immediately after the draft, and they now have the same opportunity in an open competition.
The Steelers turning to youth as their backups has been a somewhat recent development, now with Roethlisberger so deep into his career, starting with Jones, drafted in 2013, who didn’t become the primary backup until 2016.
Prior to that, Roethlisberger’s backup were mainly Charlie Batch, Byron Leftwich, and then Bruce Gradkowski. Gradkowski wasn’t older than him—in fact he’s a bit younger—but he still represented that peer level, rather than the protégé.
Taking on that mentor role or whatever you might want to call it has been new for Roethlisberger over the past half a decade or so, but outside of an off-the-mark comment here and there, has seemed to take to it well.