If there has been one thing about the backup quarterback position for the Pittsburgh Steelers this offseason, it has been that the team has maintained that the competition is wide open, and will remain ‘open’ for the foreseeable future.
While this is a sort of platitude that often gets trotted out, it certainly seems as though they have been really beating the point home this year, during the expected second-year improvement we have seen in Mason Rudolph. And I can’t help but wonder if it’s designed as a message to send to the young quarterback.
Even while affirming that the 2018 third-round pick had effectively played well enough during the preseason to justify dressing behind Ben Roethlisberger to start the season, head coach Mike Tomlin stressed that the backup quarterback position (and all other positions, he added), is “very fluid”.
He doesn’t typically talk in these terms when he’s discussing other players who have won roles. He talks instead of what they’ve accomplished and the opportunities that lie ahead for him with a continued ascent, and not so much about the perils of lagging behind and losing the ground that has been already gained.
“There is no opportunity to breathe a sigh of relief”, the head coach said of Rudolph, the quarterback the team has drafted the highest since Tomlin has been in Pittsburgh, and since 2004. “It won’t be for Mason, it won’t be for any of us. He better earn that second quarterback job daily. If not, [Joshua Dobbs] will be waiting”.
Dobbs, a fourth-round pick in 2017, served as the backup a year ago, in doing so ousting Landry Jones from the 53-man roster and eventually all the way to the XFL. Rudolph was not ready by the end of the preseason to assume the backup role, but the team was comfortable with Dobbs at the time.
Now that it’s Rudolph in the driver’s seat, all the talk is about how ephemeral and fleeting the role can be. Is this because they have higher expectations for Rudolph and his future? They drafted him essentially as a luxury in 2018, since they already had Roethlisberger, Jones, and Dobbs.
But they drafted him because they had a first-round grade on him, something that they admitted publicly, which to my awareness they haven’t done very often. They did say that for Stephon Tuitt after drafting him in the second round in 2014.
They coveted Rudolph enough that they actually traded up a couple of spots to draft him when he fell to within striking distance in the early portions of the third round. It was clear throughout the pre-draft scouting process that they were very interested in him.
And now they seem to want to keep his feet to the fire after outplaying his competition for the backup job, which is as high as he can go until Roethlisberger retires or falls off a cliff.