After playing 15 years in the NFL, most of which was with the Pittsburgh Steelers, former quarterback Charlie Batch should know a thing or two about playing that position. Additionally, with Batch still being close to the Steelers organization as a broadcaster, he already knows quite about about second-year quarterback Mason Rudolph. On Tuesday, Batch was interviewed by Stan Savarn on his ESPN radio show and he answered quite a few questions about what he’s observed from Rudolph so far this season.
Batch was first asked to talk about any signs that he;’s seen so far that prove that Rudolph is improving as an NFL quarterback.
“I think when I’m looking at it, he’s going through his reads, he’s getting to the proper guy,” Batch said of Rudolph. “Now, he’s not pressing it as much as what I would like down the field, so he’s taking that underneath coverage and he’s taking what’s underneath. So, it’s fine from that perspective. When you get spooked early, kind of the same way that he did with JuJu Smith-Schuster on that interception [against the Colts], JuJu had both hands on it. He has to figure out a way to catch that football if he wants to continue to be great.
“So those are things if it happens early, maybe it shies him away from him taking those shots down the field. That long, deep pass to James Washington late in the game, one of his last throws, he almost had the identical coverage and he was looking to throw it deep. Unfortunately you had Jaylen Samuels didn’t pick up the blitzing linebacker and he was able to disrupt that play. But, man, that would have been another play down the field and maybe we wouldn’t be having these conversations about whether Mason is pushing the football down the field.”
Next, Batch was asked to comment on Rudolph’s footwork and if he thinks the young quarterback hangs in the pocket long enough and if he waits long enough for his primary receiver to maybe get open down the field before he looks off and checks the football down underneath.
“There’s times he’d come off of his reads a little earlier, sometimes he stays on it too long,” Batch said. “You know, when you look at that fourth down play, there’s a two way option. There’s a quick out and then all of a sudden there’s JuJu underneath on the shovel pass. And unfortunately he didn’t stay with Johnson long enough and that would’ve picked up the first down in that particular situation.
“The next one I look at, backed up in his end zone, the one that the play resulted in a safety, he’s waiting for Johnson to get in and out of his break, which is to the proper read. Unfortunately Johnson slips, he gets pulled and Mason comes off of that and unfortunately instead of stepping up in the pocket, he tried to slide right and that’s what caused the fumble for the sack. So, those are things that he’s going to have to continue to learn, but again, that comes with more repetitions in the game versus just practice. And I really like to see where he’s going because I’m not in panic mode after reviewing the film.”
Batch was then asked about Rudolph’s slow starts and if thers any chance he goes into games too tentative and that lead to a long answer from the former Steelers quarterback.
“Well, it could be, but a lot of that is a combination of having a conversation with the offensive coordinator,” Batch said. “He always puts his first 15 plays together and being a starting quarterback and being around him, you look at those 15 plays and usually the first couple pass plays are ones that you feel comfortable with. Some of them you want to start the game with some short routes to kind of get into a rhythm. I was a person that wanted to throw the football down the field to make sure that you soften up that defense a little bit before you start taking those shorter throws.
Batch continued on with his answer and pointed once again to how maybe if wide receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster would have caught a few of his early-game targets that perhaps maybe it would have impacted Rudolph’s performance in Sunday’s game against the Indianapolis Colts due to him having more confidence right off the bat.
“So as he gets more comfortable, he will start to have more and more of those conversations with Randy Fichtner, but if he hits on those plays early, then now you get that confidence up,” Batch said. “And I say that because remember the long pass down the left sideline to JuJu Smith-Schuster? It was a little under-thrown, but there was some pressure, but he stood in there, he got hit and wasn’t able to follow through.
“But again, JuJu had two hands on that football, that while a little under thrown, that could have possibly been a catch. And the only reason why I say that, and I know I’m being a little harsh on JuJu right now, but I just remember being around Hines Ward and it didn’t matter who you were in that receiver group, he felt if you put one hand on the football, you should have caught it. And that’s just kind of the mindset that I have just by speaking about a potential Hall of Famer, when you’re around somebody like Hines Ward and knowing those tough catches that he used to make in his career.”
Coming out of college, a lot of people questioned if Rudolph possessed adequate enough arm strength to play quarterback in the NFL. On Tuesday, Batch was asked to give his thoughts on that topic and if has any concerns about Rudolph’s arm strength or overall velocity.
“Not at all, not at all,” Batch said. “Just at times there’s some shaky footwork and that kind of alters some of his throws. But there were some throws in the game [against the Colts] that I was questioning, man, did that come off kind of funky? But yet he’s getting hit, he’s getting a foot stepped on, he’s not able to follow through because of a pass rush. So, when you ask me that question, the short answer is, no, I have absolutely no concern on whether this guy can throw the football down the field.”
While Batch was asked to comment on a few other things related to Rudolph’s play to date as well as the overall play of the Steelers offense through the first half of the season during his Tuesday interview, he made it clear that it’s his opinion that it’s way too early to pass judgement on the young quarterback right now. In short, he made it clear that he has faith that Rudolph will continue to develop and make strides during the second half of the season as he gets more experience.
“This is a guy, remember, he’s still a young guy, he’s still learning, so we just have to continue to be patient with him,” Batch said. “But I’m fully confident in Mason Rudolph.”
You can hear the full Batch interview below.