If you’ve followed me throughout the offseason, you know I’ve been against the idea of the Pittsburgh Steelers adding a quarterback. Said no to signing Jameis Winston, trading for Andy Dalton, hitting up local insurance agencies to find the next Tommy Maddox. But that rejection has been driven by reality, not necessarily principle. The Steelers weren’t going to sign a quarterback, making the conversation futile.
We know this because the front office has been more open and honest about that than anything else. As soon as 2019 bitterly ended, Mike Tomlin made the decree.
Mason Rudolph is our 2020 backup. Those were his literal words.
“Mason is the backup.”
But if there’s two people who want to, need to, project such confidence, it’s Tomlin and Kevin Colbert. They were the decision-makers who drafted him, envisioned him as Ben Roethlisberger’s heir, the team who put a first round grade on. Of course they want to be validated; they sorta need this to be right.
Last season wasn’t a step in that direction. The book isn’t closed on Rudolph, the media is always too quick to declare quarterbacks as the second coming or the next big miss, but time is running out. 2020 is make or break for him. 2019 was difficult for so many reasons. The team reeling from the loss of their franchise QB to his first season-ending injury, Rudolph getting thrown into the fire, pummeled by Earl Thomas, smacked over the head by Myles Garrett, all the injuries he and the offense slogged their way through.
But objectively, the idea that Rudolph could be the future took a hit. That’s indisputable. Colbert can point to his record all he wants; yes, he was 5-3 but that’s thanks to an elite defense, not elite QB play, and the tape tells the real story.
I still can’t shake this 4th down play out of my head in an ugly loss to Cleveland. Rudolph missing a wide open Johnny Holton, drifting into pressure, and ultimately throwing incomplete.
That was rock bottom.
Again, doesn’t define him. But he has to start looking like the player who carried that 1st round grade.
Of course, the goal is to never see Rudolph during the regular season. That means Roethlisberger recovered, played well, and remained upright. The only guaranteed playing time will come in training camp and preseason which heck, I suppose isn’t even guaranteed given the national pandemic. But assuming there’a a camp and preseason, Rudolph will have to show a massive leap in play. He’ll need to be more aggressive downfield, show much better pocket presence after running himself into pressure and sacks far too often, with better decision-making and fewer turnovers.
Can he do it? Sure. But this is the summer to prove it.
To be fair to him, he deserves it. 2019 shouldn’t determine the rest of his career. Those set of circumstances shouldn’t define any young QB. Last year was about as tough a hand to be dealt. A year to learn from, grow from, and ultimately improve upon. Not signing a veteran backup allows Rudolph the opportunity to do all those things. Otherwise, you’re cutting off his reps and reducing the odds he gets another chance in regular season action.
Should things go well this year, the Steelers’ confidence will be rewarded. If they don’t, there will be a legitimate question about reinvesting in QB during the draft and looking for the next heir to Roethlisberger’s throne.
2020. Time for Rudolph to sink or swim.