The Pittsburgh Steelers have a rare challenge on their hands this season, even if not a unique one. They will be tasked not only with getting a new starter prepared for action each week, but also with getting their rookie backup up to speed, ready to play if necessary.
Now, this isn’t the first time in NFL history it’s ever happened. In fact, in 2012, when Washington used the second-overall pick on Robert Griffin III, they also drafted Kirk Cousins out of Michigan State that year in the fourth round, and Cousins served as his backup that year. A rookie backing up a rookie, both needing to be prepared. What a challenge.
Still, while it’s good that Mason Rudolph does have a season under his belt, without question, the fact remains that he had never taken a snap or even dressed for a meaningful game prior to Sunday. And Devlin Hodges, his current backup, was a college free agent out of Samford, which frankly doesn’t produce many NFL players. He didn’t even make the initial practice squad.
Said head coach Mike Tomlin on Tuesday during his pre-game press conference on the situation they find themselves in at quarterback, needing to get not one but two young quarterbacks up to speed to dress for Sunday, it’s about finding an equilibrium between the two, which will not be even.
“We have to strike a delicate balance of getting Mason the reps that he needs in order to be ready to function as our starter this week”, he said, “and work to develop Hodges, and we’ll continue to work to strike that balance, but our first priority is obviously is Mason and his readiness, and then secondarily, Duck”.
Hodges was not on any roster or practice squad through Week One after he was part of the Steelers’ post-preseason roster cuts. He was signed to the practice squad following that game after the team was able to grade Joshua Dobbs to the Jacksonville Jaguars, and then promoted on Monday to the 53-man roster when Ben Roethlisberger was placed on the Reserve/Injured List.
The journey he has taken since April has felt both long and short. He’s come a long way in just a handful of months, yet so many things have happened in between. Undrafted. Unsigned. Invited to rookie minicamp. He gets signed to the 90-man roster, impresses in training camp, gets opportunities as the fourth arm in the preseason, but then struggles in the finale.
He’s cut. Nobody claims him off waivers. The Steelers chose to go without him on the practice squad. Then, suddenly, a trade happens, and he’s brought back as part of that group. A week later, he’s one of two quarterbacks on the roster and preparing to dress for a game two days from now.