At this point, the Pittsburgh Steelers have two quarterbacks preparing to play Sunday night against the Los Angeles Chargers. There’s Mason Rudolph, last week’s emergency starter with Ben Roethlisberger placed on the Reserve/COVID list at the last minute. And there’s Roethlisberger himself, still on the COVID-19 list, but according to Matt Canada, preparing like he’ll be cleared to play this weekend.
Speaking to reporters Thursday, Canada said he’s talked with Roethlisberger – virtually – all through the week.
“I’ve talked to him every day,” he told reporters via audio provided by the team. “Talked about the plan and talked about what we’re thinking. Obviously he’s also met with [QBs Coach Mike Sullivan] every day and going through the very specifics of those things. So he’s preparing like he’s going to be there and be ready to go.”
Roethlisberger will need two negative tests, conducted 24 hours apart, in order to be cleared. The fact he was symptomatic last week may make it tougher for him to have those negative tests and get the go-ahead to return with the team. But it’s impossible to say right now if he’ll be available this weekend or not.
Though easily forgotten, the Steelers were in a similar situation last season. Roethlisberger missed five days on the COVID list due to being a close contact to TE Vance McDonald, who tested positive for the virus. Roethlisberger gained clearance the day before the team’s game against the Cincinnati Bengals, and though he hardly had any physical reps, fired four touchdowns in a 36-10 win.
“Almost exactly like last year. All Zoom meetings. We all got practice at that. He’s very much engaged and watching practice like normal, what’s going on. Every day we’ve talked. Just hasn’t been in person.”
We may not know until Saturday night, maybe even Sunday, if Roethlisberger will be able to play. Even if he’s cleared, there could potentially be a logistics issue, too. Pittsburgh is flying out to the West Coast to take on the Chargers and presumably, Roethlisberger won’t be able to travel until he’s cleared (he certainly couldn’t travel with the team). If he gets cleared on Sunday morning and is still in Pittsburgh, he’ll have to fly out that day. Presumably, the team will be able to make such arrangements, but it’s another layer to consider.
If Roethlisberger is unable to play, then Rudolph will make his second straight start. The silver lining here is the last time the Steelers traveled to face the Chargers, they were also without Roethlisberger, losing him to season-ending elbow surgery in 2019. That night, they started and won with Duck Hodges. So they certainly could win with Rudolph.