A year ago during the Pittsburgh Steelers OTA practices then-rookie quarterback Mason Rudolph was buried on the positional depth chart behind Ben Roethlisberger, Landry Jones and Joshua Dobbs and thus his reps were likely not only few and far between, but also mainly with the third-string unit. This year, however, Rudolph, the Steelers first of two 2018 third-round draft picks, is getting a lot more reps in OTAs and even quite a few with the first-team offense. At the conclusion of the team’s 2019 OTA practices on Thursday, Rudolph was first asked how it feels to have this particular portion of the offseason over with.
“Well, I still got three [practices] to go, but OTAs were great,” Rudolph said, per audio provided by 93.7 The Fan. “I mean, we still got three more that we’ll spend a little more time in the building, which will be nice to have the meeting after practice. But, yeah, it was great. I thought I improved a lot, just comfortability. A lot of receivers making plays out here, a lot of new faces. So, we got a lot of reps down, valuable reps, that’ll kind of give us a primer before we head to Latrobe. So, looking forward to it.”
Rudolph was also asked on Thursday how much more time he’s received this year in OTAs with the first-team offense as opposed to a year ago.
“Yeah, I mean, a lot more,” Rudolph said. “Just Randy [Fichtner] feels more comfortable with me and my knowledge and that I’m going to go in there and run the play and execute. And I think that’s just what happens in year-two. So, it’s been great. It’s awesome to be in with those first guys and very valuable.”
So, just how valuable are those first-team reps to Rudolph?
“Oh, it’s great. You know, it’s awesome,” Rudolph said. “It’s just, you know, it’s different faces and especially the number one o-line, it’s good to hang out with them for a change and kind of get in the huddle with those guys. They’re always fun and fun to be around. So, that was good. But, you know, whoever you’re getting reps with out here, you got a chance to maximize your rep every single day and that’s the way I look at it.”
Rudolph also made it known after Thursday’s practice that he indeed does compare what he knows this year to what he did and didn’t know a year ago.
“Yeah, you always compare, yes,” Rudolph said. “It’s always been my motto, let’s be not just a little bit better, but like huge strides from the previous year. Whether it was high school or college, and that’s what I’ve done this year. And I think just from a protection standpoint and general knowledge of the offense operation, kind of coaching, helping guys that are new. I’m the veteran now, even though I’m only a year in, but I feel like just general knowledge is a hundred times better than it was last year.”
While Rudolph might compare his own growth from last year to this year, he doesn’t compare himself and what he does during practice to what the other quarterback he’s competing against this summer for the right to back up Roethlisberger in 2019, Dobbs, who ultimately beat out Jones last year during training camp and the preseason for the No,. 2 job.
“No, I think, to be honest, I’ve always been a big believer in being the best version of yourself,” Rudolph said. “Competing, looking at yourself in the mirror, being a lot better than you were the day before. And I think anytime, you know, I mean, in college, I was trying to compete against the guys and I was the clear-cut starter. So, that’s never going to disappear. We we’re playing the trashcan drill today and I’m trying to beat Ben as best I can and throw them in the bucket. And I think I might have. But anyways, we all compete against each other, we love each other and we have fun.”
So, if Rudolph doesn’t measure himself to the other quarterbacks on the roster, how does he measure himself? well, in general, he views that as someone else’s job to do.
“You know, I think that’s up to the coaches and the people in our building,” Rudolph said. “But personally, I feel I thought I threw the ball very well. I took care of the ball, you know, barely any turnovers and, you know, especially in the red zone. That was an emphasis for myself. you know, speed everything up in the red zone, make sure our ball placement’s good. We’re giving guys a chance to make plays. So, I thought I did that and was accurate.”
Later in Thursday’s interview, Rudolph was asked to disclose what all he focused on improving during the offseason.
“You got to do everything,” Rudolph said. “That’s the funny thing, is you had all this time, you know, this is the first time you had like four months off and you got to be able to manage it well and spend a little bit of time in the playbook and the rule book, even. Obviously throwing, working on little things, footwork, timing.
“Trying to get around other guys in other cities during the offseason, Finding where they’re at, where their vacationing at. So, it was fun. I think I couldn’t put one thing on it, but there’s a little bit everything. Studying in the book, staying in touch with the coaching staff and asking questions every once in a while. Not being a teacher’s pet, but legitimate questions if you have some.”
When asked what players he was able to work with this past offseason, Rudolph named now-former Steelers wide receiver Darrius Heyward-Bey and second-year running back Jaylen Samuels, because like himself, he’s from the Charlotte, North Carolina area.
Next week the Steelers will conduct their annual mandatory minicamp and then the team’s training camp in Latrobe will get underway roughly five weeks later. While Rudolph is looking forward to the three practices that will take place next week, he’s really looking forward to participating in his second training camp even more and for a lot of different reasons.
“I’m just excited to get to Latrobe, second time around,” Rudolph said Thursday. “You know how everything works. It’s going to be a hundred times better and yeah, it’s just going to be fun to throw the ball and have real practice. I keep getting kind of pissed, you know, they’re dropping eight a lot because we can’t run, we’re not running the ball in these periods. So, you get frustrated and you’re having to check calls down, but you got to play that game. And then you get to Latrobe and you can finally put the pads on, run a little bit, get some play action flowing, So, that’ll be a lot more better.”
If you’re like me, you’re really looking forward to watching the training camp between Rudolph and Dobbs take place later this summer. It figures to be a great one and one that many, and that includes myself, expect Rudolph to ultimately win.
Rudolph was inactive for all 16 games during his rookie season after completing 24 of his 44 total passing attempts for 315 yards and 3 touchdowns and an interception during the preseason..