As we’ve done for the past couple years, and with training camp right around the corner, we’re giving a preview of what to watch for from each position group when the Pittsburgh Steelers hit Latrobe. Matthew Marczi has reviewed the additions and subtractions of each unit but this post is for what I’m specifically looking for from each player during camp.
We’ll start things off, as we always do, with the quarterback class.
Ben Roethlisberger: Same story here. Just stay healthy. If #7 does that, it’s been a successful camp. He did well to squash much of the drama storylines during OTAs so hopefully the focus will return to football for the rest of the summer.
I am curious if his usage will change at all. He’s another year older and threw a career high 675 pass attempts during the regular season. Factor in camp and the preseason, you get 843 total attempts. Add in practice reps and he’s easily over 1000. It’s become routine to hold him out of a handful of practices but I wonder if it’ll happen more frequently this year. He got the third day of camp off last year, the first in pads, which was a little disappointing. Because when Roethlisberger doesn’t practice, the energy and tempo of the whole day seems a bit down, something Mike Tomlin has even admitted.
It’s ultimately me musing about pretty much nothing but I am curious to see if the team takes a slightly different course this time around.
Josh Dobbs: Here’s where the battle begins. Dobbs and Mason Rudolph will duke it out for the #2 job this season. Dobbs has always had strong camps and preseason performances, showing well in the preseason finale the past two seasons, the latter cementing his job over Landry Jones.
While he is capable of making the tough throw and the big play, he sometimes misses the little things. Accuracy, timing, and placement are all issues and problems that popped up during the disaster that was the Oakland Raiders game. Yes, it was on the road, yes Dobbs came in mid-game but hello, those are the requirements of a backup QB. You’re one play away.
So I want to see more consistency with his game. Throw the 10-12 yard out on time to the outside shoulder, away from the defensive back. Hit the underneath crosser in stride. Avoid the sack, get the ball out on time and on schedule.
In practice, want to see him turn the football over less, too. Threw six interceptions across 15 practices, an average of one pick every 22.3 attempts. Here’s how that stacked up with the rest of the group.
Mason Rudolph: 21.25
Josh Dobbs: 22.3
Ben Roethlisberger: 37.5
Landry Jones: 61
This ain’t golf. Higher number is better and though Dobbs comes out ahead of Rudolph, it’s a razor thin margin especially when you consider a rookie with a second-year player. Take care of the ball, be more accurate overall, and he can hold onto the #2 job.
Mason Rudolph: Obviously looking for a noticeable jump from year one to year two. Like Dobbs, Rudolph turned the football over too much and had too many negative plays, even if some of the ones like taking seven sacks in the preseason weren’t all his fault. they’re plays that need to be avoided this summer.
He probably needs to take some shots downfield too. Make the “wow” play that shows he can thread the needle in an NFL window so that if he wins the #2 job, the offense doesn’t go into a shell. Randy Fichtner had confidence in Dobbs to run playaction from the goal line against the Ravens and Dobbs came through with a great throw for a 22 yard gain to JuJu Smith-Schuster.
In last year’s preseason, he averaged just 7.2 yards per attempt. Much lower than Dobbs’ 10.1. That’s natural, the rookie quarterback being more conservative, but we’ll need to see him open it up and take more calculated chances this year around.
Of course, you’re still looking for comfort with the playbook and command of the huddle but largely, those were impressive areas for him even as a rook.
Devlin Hodges: Tough spot to be in as a #4 UDFA, no doubt. It’s not like last year either where Rudolph, technically the #4 for camp, ended up playing a ton because the Steelers rested Roethlisberger and didn’t need to see much from Landry Jones. Rudolph led the team in pass attempts last summer. Hodges won’t be nearly as lucky.
So he’s fighting just to get some reps, for starters. If he can throw 100 passes in training camp, awesome. The good news is Hodges feels like more than your typical, ho-hum #4 quarterback. Great college career at Samford, broke the FCS record for passing yards, and is an unusual athlete who can run and even punt. Think he has the talent to make a splash play or two and he’ll have to do something to impress coaches. But he’ll have to balance that reality with not trying to do too much either, as young and bubble players are prone to do. Still has to make a profit on each play, hit your checkdown, hit your first read, and not run around like a madman.
His chances of making the 53 are virtually nil, even if there’s an injury ahead of him. Morbid as it is, his best path is an injury where the team keeps two QBs on the 53 while keeping Hodges on the practice squad as the #3/scout team guy.