While the fringes of the Pittsburgh Steelers fan base may be spending their time ripping their hair out over the decision not to keep Devlin Hodges at quarterback, who successfully cleared waivers and is now a street free agent, or Diontae Spencer, who was claimed by the Denver Broncos for now, the general focus is now on moving forward, and it’s more compelling to consider what they got right.
And one of the areas of the team that they certainly got right was making the decision about who will be the backup quarterback in 2019. After spending his rookie season in street clothes, former third-round pick Mason Rudolph will now by the next man up behind Ben Roethlisberger, and his play made it an easy call to make.
The Steelers haven’t officially announced that Rudolph will be the backup, to be fair—technically, Joshua Dobbs is still listed as the second-team quarterback on the team’s website, but we know that the depth chart tends to be inaccurate and not reflect perfectly what we see on the field. They also list Zach Gentry as the fifth-string tight end, and Kameron Kelly is behind Marcus Allen, so there you go.
But Rudolph will be the number two. The numbers bear that out, as does the tape, and we have pretty much seen on the field everything that he has been saying throughout the offseason about what he’s worked on and how he feels more comfortable. It’s nice to actually see a player talk about specific improvements and then actually witness them take place for a change.
“I try to make it hard on myself, but it is getting easier”, he said, quoted by Jeremy Fowler of ESPN. “Second year with experience helps with a lot of things. I’m not as hesitant. There were some times last year I was too [hesitant] based on not having a complete feel for protection and routes. I’m ripping it and letting it go and am very aggressive now”.
He was much better working off of his protection this year, and his ability to move both inside the pocket and to flush out and play outside of the hash marks was on display a number of times during the preseason.
He didn’t show it during every game, perhaps in part due to the gameplan the Steelers and Randy Fichtner had in mind for him, but he also did ultimately show that aggressiveness, both proactively and reactively, converting those third and longs as well as hitting on first or second down on deep passes.
There are few throws from him throughout the season that you could definitely say he would want to have back, which is what you want to see in your backup. While he hasn’t played a snap in a meaningful game yet, there is some anticipation about his development, and, from my perspective, deservedly so. At the very least, the hope is that he can provide strong relief for Roethlisberger over the length of his contract should he have to miss time, which can save a season. I don’t think anybody really felt that with Dobbs as the number two last year.