With nearly half an NFL season’s worth of play under his belt, quite a few people have now made their final assessments concerning Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Mason Rudolph and whether he has what it takes to ultimately be the team’s heir apparent to starting quarterback Ben Roethlisberger. Following Rudolph’s very disappointing play Thursday night against the Cleveland Browns that included him throwing four interceptions and missing a few other key reads, it’s not hard to imagine that many people have the Oklahoma State as being an average career backup NFL quarterback at best moving forward.
On the heels of Rudolph’s worst game of his young career Thursday night, Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin was asked a very peculiar question on Tuesday regarding the young quarterback. Below is that question so you get the full context of it because me recapping it might not do it justice.
“Coach, Vince Young won the Heisman 2005, Tim Tebow in 2007 and [Johnny] Manziel in 2012 but none of them had extended NFL careers and are not currently on NFL rosters. Does Mason Rudolph have a skill set that may not be obvious to us layman that validates him to be a starter for the Steelers, or any other NFL team?”
Tomlin’s response to that peculiar question?
“Man, that’s a deep and philosophical question you gave me there,” Tomlin replied. “I will avoid some of the comparisons to some of them historical people. You know, we like Mason, we like what he does throughout this team development process. He’s earned the position that he holds now, but it’s also something that he’ll continually earn through play. And he understands that, and we understand that.
“He didn’t do a good enough job of taking care of the football in the last game and so he’s got to take responsibility for that, and he understands that. And that’s something that can’t be a part of his play moving forward on a consistent basis. But that’s anybody that occupies that role for us with their hands under the center and at the quarterback position. Job one is preservation of the football.”
That’s a great answer and while not a defense for Rudolph’s awful play Thursday night, his receivers didn’t play overly well once again and three of the team’s starters on offense, running back James Conner and wide receivers JuJu Smith-Schuster and Diontae Johnson, were all knocked out the game with injuries. The Steelers played most of the second half with James Washington, Johnny Holton and Tevin Jones as their three wide receivers.
Because of the revolving door the Steelers have had at the wide receiver position recently, Tomlin was asked on Tuesday if he thinks that’s played some into Rudolph’s seemingly lack of progress as a quarterback this season. Tomlin, however, would not take the bait.
“You know, we’re not looking for excuses,” Tomlin said. “It is what it is, man, we’re trying to win football games. We’re presented with a set of circumstances or variables week in and week out, some of which we don’t have control over. We do have control over our preparation, our readiness and ultimately the execution of those available to us. And so that’s our focus. You know, I’m not trying to paint with a broad brush or seek comfort or trying to assess anything from a global perspective. We really need to be focused on our prep and ultimately our play this weekend in an AFC North road matchup.”
With the Steelers having a few extra days to prepare for Sunday’s road game against the Cincinnati Bengals on the heels of the team having a short week to prepare for their road game against the Browns, it will be interesting to see how Rudolph ultimately responds to the worst game of his young career.
Rudolph will likely also be faced with the challenge of playing without Smith-Schuster, Johnson and Conner against the Bengals as well as all three players seem likely to miss that contest with injuries. In fact, the Steelers top four wide receivers Sunday against the Bengals might just be James Washington, Johnny Holton, Tevin Jones and newcomer Deon Cain, who was signed off the practice squad of the Indianapolis Colts. Jones, by the way, was signed off the Steelers practice squad on Thursday while Holton now has all just one catch on the season.
The odds tell you that any quarterback drafted after the first round will never become a franchise signal-caller. That said, Rudolph has yet to log 500 total offensive snaps to date so it’s a little early to completely throw him out with the bath water. While most of the fan base is calling for Rudolph to now be benched in favor of his backup, Devlin Hodges, such a move isn’t likely to happen barring an injury of some sort. Like it or not, the Steelers will play Rudolph the remainder of the season so they’ll have a full evaluation of him and that’s what should be done as they need to find out exactly what kind of skill sets he has and doesn’t have at the NFL level.