Pittsburgh Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin wouldn’t even begin to entertain the question yesterday during his pre-game press conference when a local reporter asked him why he did not have backup quarterback Devlin Hodges warming up to prepare to come into the game in the first quarter if Mason Rudolph continued to struggle.
“Next”, was all he would say. And really, all that needed to be said. Rudolph was coming off of a concussion that he suffered the last time he played, three weeks ago. He was also making just the fourth start of his career. They see him as somebody who can be a long-term starter. They’re not going to have a short leash on him.
Nevertheless, his performance was rough early in the game. He threw an interception on his first pass attempt, forcing a ball to JuJu Smith-Schuster that he certainly never should have thrown. He nearly threw an interception at the end of the second drive as well, and was consistently behind his receivers through much of that early stretch.
But he turned things around significantly in the second quarter and beyond, making better decisions and placing the ball in better positions. This was Tomlin’s observation of his performance as well, as he mention in his opening remarks.
“I think you start first and foremost with Mason Rudolph. I thought he got better as the game wore on”, he told reporters. “I thought his overall decision-making became more fluid. His accuracy became better. A lot of it had to do with footwork. But more than anything, I thought he just settled down. And as he got into action, obviously coming out of a bye, and coming off of an injury, it was a unique set of circumstances for him, it didn’t define him or his performance, and he moved on”.
One of the most important qualities of a player at this level, and especially at the quarterback position, is to have the right composure to be able to move on through mistakes and play as though they never happened, all the while being able to learn from them.
Rudolph is a player who has always seemed to possess those intangible qualities, and I think his ability to put the bad start behind him and just continue playing, and start hitting his throws, converting third downs, displaying accuracy down the field, is an indication of just that.
Now, does that mean that he is going to be a great quarterback and a winner? No. It’s important to have composure, but you also have to have the talent. We’re still finding out about what sort of talent he is. But one thing I’m not worried about is his mental makeup.