Mike Tomlin is in the midst of perhaps the most difficult challenge that he has ever faced in his professional career as a head coach. He has started a season 0-3 before—the last time did not go well—but never in the context of the prospect of facing the rest of the year without his starting quarterback.
The good news is, he has a group in the locker room full of players who, in words, if not in deed, don’t need a whole lot of prodding to understand what is at stake and to want to do everything in their power to right the ship. And that starts under center with Mason Rudolph.
“Obviously, 0-3 start, we’re gonna put the pressure on ourselves to go and compete”, he told reporters, via Mike Prisuta through the team’s website. “We’re not going to need to hear anything from the coaches. Those guys in the locker room are self-starters and they’re gonna want to rally together and get back to work”.
While coaches obviously serve a critical function in instruction and motivation and all things of that nature, the ultimate drive that gets somebody to do something has to come from within. Not everybody, after all, is so talented that they can simply master their craft without even trying particularly hard.
Rudolph has already talked on a number of occasions about the fact that he embraces the work that goes into being a football player, and a quarterback in particular. He loves film study, understanding the tendencies of his opponents, and told reporters that he’s not the sort who can just go out on the field and wing it. His success comes from meticulous preparation.
Do the Steelers have enough of that sort of player in the locker room to make a difference? Rudolph thinks so, or at least said so, but it’s not as though he would speak to the contrary during a press conference were that the case.
Still, the majority of the players on the roster come from past Steelers teams who understand success. It was only two seasons ago that they went 13-3 and earned a first-round bye. They advanced all the way to the AFC Championship Game in 2016.
They still have plenty of guys who were around from those years, and everybody who comes into the locker room with the understanding that they are entering not just a team, but a tradition, with a legacy of success and expectations.
We heard that from Minkah Fitzpatrick when he came in last week. We’ll hear that from Nick Vannett when he speaks to the media. They’ll also have both told of pre-draft meetings in which Tomlin made an impression on them. And they made an impression on him, which is why he kept tabs on them, and made them Steelers.