As of Thursday morning, the Pittsburgh Steelers are still expecting starting quarterback Ben Roethlisberger to play against the Cincinnati Bengals on Sunday. If, however, Roethlisberger can’t play on Sunday due to him testing positive for COVID-19 the remainder of the week, the Steelers would then have to start one of their two backup quarterbacks, Mason Rudolph, or Joshua Dobbs. On Thursday, Steelers offensive coordinator Randy Fichtner was asked to disclose how the practice reps between Rudolph and Dobbs are currently being split with Roethlisberger not able to practice until Saturday at the earliest.
“Mason [Rudolph] is taking reps, Josh [Dobbs] is taking reps,” Fichtner said on Thursday. “I don’t know if it’s equal reps, but we are preparing both just like we would every week. They’re just getting a few more reps in on Thursday and Friday.”
Fichtner’s Thursday comments come on the heels of Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin saying that Rudolph would get the bulk of first-team reps in practice this week with Roethlisberger sitting out on the team’s Reserve/COVID-19 list. Like Tomlin, Fichtner did not entirely rule out the possibility of both Rudolph and Dobbs playing against the Bengals on Sunday if Roethlisberger can’t.
“I probably wouldn’t get into that, but I think both of them to this point have worked their tails off to put themselves into that conversation,” Fichtner said. “You ask them about if they would be confident in any normal scenarios. I know that they didn’t have a preseason. They didn’t have the opportunity to have a lot of work. That would be the only hesitation I would have. The truth is I believe that both of them would do it if it gives us a chance to be successful if it were to happen.”
While Rudolph has been active for every game so far this season as Roethlisberger’s backup, Dobbs, who was claimed off waivers from the Jacksonville Jaguars by the Steelers just prior to the start of the regular season, has yet to dress for a game in 2020. Dobbs also hasn’t taken an NFL snap since he temporarily relieved an injured Roethlisberger in the second half of the Steelers 2018 road game against the Oakland Raiders.
In total, Dobbs has played 30 offensive snaps since being selected by the Steelers in the fourth-round of the 2017 NFL Draft out of Tennessee. In those 30 snaps, he’s attempted just 12 passes and completed just six of them for 43 yards and a touchdown. As for Rudolph, who has started eight games for the Steelers since being selected in the third-round of the 2018 NFL Draft out of Oklahoma State, he’s completed 179 of his 287 total pass attempts for 1,774 yards with 13 touchdowns and 9 interceptions as a professional.
While Roethlisberger’s status for Sunday is still yet to be decided and even thought Rudolph is much more experienced than Dobbs, Fichtner made it clear on Thursday that this week’s overall game plan for Sundays home contest against the Bengals could change some depending on who the team has at quarterback at Heinz Field due to the players individual likes and dislikes of certain plays.
“First of all, I don’t know that there would be a lot of changing,” Fichtner said. “We are always like that every week; we meet with the quarterbacks and myself Saturday night. We talk Saturday night about certain things in the game plan that you want to get called, that you like that you feel very comfortable with. Any time backups will play away from plan, any week whether it be Mason [Rudolph] or Josh [Dobbs], and I think back to Charlie Batch and all the other quarterbacks, they always had a handful of things they really feel comfortable with. You have to sort them and have the thought process of this play, this play, this play, this play. I like this play. I haven’t gotten that feel for that rep. I don’t feel as comfortable with it maybe like Ben
[Roethlisberger] would, so put it on the backburner.”
While there’s been a ton of talk about the Steelers backup quarterback situation this week, it all could wind up being for naught as long as Roethlisberger can come off the COVID-19 list by Saturday. To hear Fichtner talk on Thursday, it doesn’t sound like the Steelers are too worried about Roethlisberger not being able to play on Sunday against the Bengals. The team also isn’t overly concerned about him ultimately playing on Sunday without practicing any this week.
“We will prepare and continue to prepare as if Ben’s playing,” Fichtner said. “Like I said, as of this point right now, he [Roethlisberger] hasn’t missed a rep because he doesn’t practice on Wednesdays anyway. I know from a mental standpoint; he will be ready to go. I do have some background idea that there has been various times in his career where he has not practiced all week and has played in games and has played successfully in games. I don’t question that one bit.”