One of the most contentious battles we expect to see in training camp this year will not even be one for a starting position. It will be for the right to serve as the backup to Ben Roethlisberger, as the number two quarterback for the Pittsburgh Steelers, and the competition will be between third-year Joshua Dobbs, who was backup last year, and 2018 third-round pick Mason Rudolph.
Rudolph was, of course, a rookie last season, and often looked the part of one through out the offseason and into the preseason as well. He certainly flashed here and there and had his moments, but it was no surprise when he spent pretty much the whole season on the bench as a healthy scratch.
He expects much different for, and from, himself this summer, and so do his teammates and coaches. As training camp gets underway, and the real evaluation of his growth begins, others have seen meaningful changes in him.
His college teammate, James Washington, said of Rudolph back during minicamp, “he looks more confident back there leading the pack”, per Joe Rutter of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review. He noted that the quarterback was reminding him more of the guy he played with at Oklahoma State for four years than the one he saw as a pair of rookies in 2018.
As for himself, Rudolph sets out ambitious goals for improvement. “My motto has been, ‘let’s be not just a little bit better, but make huge strides from the previous year’, whether it’s high school or college, and that’s what I’ve done this year”, he said. “From a protection standpoint, general knowledge of the offense, operations, coaching and helping guys that are new, I feel like my general knowledge is 100 times better than last year”.
That’s certainly a bold claim, and the defense will be happy to help him test it out over the course of the next several weeks. Both he and Dobbs figure to see the vast majority of the preseason snaps (somewhere between 40 to 45 percent apiece), giving each of them ample opportunity to show how they have grown from last season.
As the backup last year, Dobbs did have to play in a couple of games due to injury. He came in for just one throw against the Baltimore Ravens, completing it for a conversion on second and long. When he came in against the Oakland Raiders for extended work, however, he struggled, with arguably his two most notable plays being scrambles for first downs.
The Steelers used a third-round pick to select Rudolph last year because they saw in him a first-round prospect who had fallen into their lap, believing that he could be a legitimate option as the successor to Roethlisberger in time. The plan necessarily involves his having time to grow into the role, but they expect him to make huge strides in year two, and hopefully enough to assume the backup role.