For the rest of the preseason, we’ll give a recap, position-by-position, player-by-player of what I saw during the 2022 Pittsburgh Steelers training camp and preseason games. This list is based off the 16 public camp practices and the preseason games I’ve watched up until this point and is based solely off their performance then and does not necessarily represent my feelings for the players overall or during the regular season.
With that in mind, let’s start with the quarterbacks.
Mason Rudolph: You have to be frustrated if you’re Mason Rudolph. A real monkey’s paw situation. I wish for Ben Roethlisberger to retire. A wish granted but one that followed by the team signing Mitch Trubisky ten minutes into free agency and then draft Kenny Pickett 20th overall. He’s gone from being the #1 on the roster to almost certainly being the #3, somehow further away from the starting gig than he was a year ago.
But putting that aside, Rudolph’s summer was strong. I’m not beholden by numbers but his were the best in nearly every category. Across sixteen practices, he had the highest yards per attempt (6.0), yards per completion (9.1) and tied for the most touchdowns (20) while not throwing a single pick in camp. There were close calls, CB Justin Layne and S Donovan Stiner dropping interceptions (Stiner’s turned into a wild TD catch by Connor Heyward) but Rudolph’s stat sheet was clean. He threw the best and most accurate deep ball of any QB in camp, it’s high-level, and showed increased velocity on intermediate routes and throws over the middle. He was also the most consistent arm in camp and rarely had flat-out bad days, though there were some rough stretches of passes being batted down at the line of scrimmage.
Rudolph’s pocket presence and movement have improved since his rookie year and isn’t much of an issue anymore. He’s functionally mobile, enough to run Matt Canada’s base scheme. Rudolph’s also played well through the first two preseason games, a gorgeous touchdown pass to George Pickens in the opener while leading the game-winning drive Saturday against Jacksonville.
Rudolph has fallen to the #3 through little fault of his own. Pittsburgh knows him enough to know he won’t the team’s long-term starter while Kenny Pickett has progressed enough to be the immediate backup. The team is right to make Rudolph third-string but in a vacuum, his summer was impressive. Start to finish, he was the best quarterback there. Now, he’ll have to hope Omar Khan answers the phone and deals him elsewhere to be a #2. But I think Khan is content to hold onto him, too.
Camp Grade: A
Kenny Pickett: Pickett is the latest example as to why camps and preseasons take a wide and long view, not a snapshot. Pickett didn’t look good the first four practices, checking the ball down short, taking too long to get rid of it, and struggling to see the field well. But his play turned around from there and has progressed the rest of the way in all areas. His accuracy and ball placement along with his snap-to-throw times have seen the most noticeable jump. He finished camp with a 70% completion rate, best of all the quarterbacks and the third-best camp mark we’ve tracked since 2015. His YPA and YPC also consistently increased throughout camp. Pickett looked like a new man after settling in the first week.
He shined the brightest in games, going 13/15 with two touchdowns in the opener, including the game-winning score, and 6/7 against the Jaguars, leading a beautiful two-minute drive. The traits that got him drafted have carried over. He’s accurate, smart, mechanically sound, and mobile. Pickett hasn’t pushed the ball deep downfield as much as others and seems a little more risk-adverse, once opting against throwing deep down the left sideline to Steven Sims for something underneath. We haven’t seen him push the ball quite as often as the others either, though much of that has been playing within structure and not having a lot downfield to hit. His yards per completion was the lowest of the big three quarterbacks, coming in at 8.0 for camp. Mason Rudolph and Mitch Trubisky were a full yard higher. He also tied Trubisky with five interceptions thanks to a couple of forced throws over the middle, like a pick to Arthur Maulet in a two-minute drill.
Pickett began camp as the #3 but has firmly cemented himself as the #2 on this team. Frankly, he seems to be NFL-ready right now and if the team wanted to start him Week One, that wouldn’t be a bad idea. He’ll play sooner or later and should see action his rookie season.
Camp Grade: A-
Mitch Trubisky: Trubisky’s served as the Steelers’ starter wire to wire from the first snaps back in the spring to the time I’m writing this article. Though framed as a competition, it was always Trubisky’s job to lose and he didn’t do anything to jeopardize his frontrunner position. Trubisky was arguably the most volatile quarterback in camp with some really good days and some really bad days. On Day #6 of camp, he went 4/12 for 20 yards and an interception. He followed that up the next day going 13/17 for 98 yards and a touchdown. One another set of back-to-back practices, he went 3/11 for 24 yards and a fumble one day but bounced back going 8/11 for 129 yards and three touchdowns the next. That’s sort of how it went.
He finished camp with the lowest completion percentage of the top three quarterbacks, 59.1%, despite having the lowest YPA of the group (5.3, though his YPC was just shy of the top mark). He threw five picks and occasionally showed tunnel vision underneath, twice picked off by a roving Robert Spillane he never saw.
Trubisky ran the show well and was a good leader and commander of the offense, despite being new to the team and scheme himself. He was aggressive and took more shots downfield, especially early on in camp. He played well in the preseason opener, driving the offense for an opening-drive touchdown and his mobility has been an asset in both games. His ability to scramble and makes plays with his legs have been valuable behind a suspect offensive line that’s forced him to run.
Trubisky is still set to be the team’s Week One quarterback. His play is likely to be hot and cold and the down moments will lead fans clamoring for Kenny Pickett sooner than later. Trubisky had a fine camp but it wasn’t anything that made me think his career in some major will turn around in Pittsburgh. He’s not the second coming of Ryan Tannehill.
Camp Grade: B
Chris Oladokun: Oladokun went 14 public practices without a single rep in 7v7 or 11v11. He received 19 over the final two practices, scout team sessions, but hey, they were reps. Prior to then, the only throwing he did came on-air and in the 1v1 competition periods, WRs/DBs and RBs/LBs. He threw the ball on 15 of those plays, completing just seven passes with one touchdown and one near-interception.
Oladokun was just trying to shake off the rust after presumably not regularly throwing since rookie minicamp, as evidence by one end zone throw that seemed stuck to his hand and harmlessly dove into the ground, five yards away from his intended target. His accuracy and placement were scattershot and he struggled to lead a moving target. Perhaps he can mop up the final two series of the preseason this weekend. Pittsburgh was correct in not giving him reps but that doesn’t make it any less frustrating for him personally. No #4 QB in Steelers’ camp has logged so few reps as Oladokun has this camp. By comparison, #4 QB Josh Dobbs had 88 in fewer practices a year ago. Giving him a grade feels questionable but at least there was something to go off of, though this is a very loose determination. Maybe we’ll learn more next summer, presuming he makes it that far.
Camp Grade: C-