2022 Training Camp Questions: Could Tomlin Really Dress Rudolph As Trubisky’s Backup Over Kenny Pickett?

The Steelers are at the UPMC Rooney Sports Complex, informally known as the South Side facility, now into the regular season. It’s where they otherwise train all year round, and the facility that Burt Lauten insists everybody refers to by its full name.

There are still unsettled questions that need answering, even deep into the regular season. They entered the process with questions in the starting lineup, in scheme, and elsewhere, but new problems always arise that need to be resolved.

Even questions about who’s starting and when may not have satisfactory answers in their finality, as midseason changes are certainly quite possible, for some positions more than others. We’re also feeling out how the new coordinator posts—or posts in new contexts—end up playing out.

There’s never any shortage of questions when it comes to football, and we’ll be discussing them here on a daily basis for the community to “talk amongst yourselves”, as Linda Richman might say on Coffee Talk.

Question: Could Mike Tomlin decide to dress Mason Rudolph as the backup quarterback to Mitch Trubisky to start the 2022 season?

I ask you to read this with an open mind, and with the perspective that I’m not advocating for any particular position, but simply exploring the question. Before we dig in here and I get widely chastised for even posing the question, I want to mention two things.

For one thing, even if this was 18 years ago, Ben Roethlisberger was supposed to be the number three quarterback his rookie year, at least to start out, although there are caveats there. For one thing, there were fewer expectations for rookie quarterbacks to play right away. For another, teams could still dress a third emergency quarterback.

But here’s the other thing about dressing a backup quarterback, specifically: they’re not going to get a lot of reps, especially when the starter, even if experienced, is new to the team. So ask yourself: who would be better prepared to execute to the best of his relative abilities coming off the bench cold with limited practice reps, the rookie Kenny Pickett, or the veteran Mason Rudolph, now in his fifth year in Pittsburgh?

With those two things out of the way, let me just state that I do expect Pickett to dress as the number two quarterback in the season opener behind Trubisky. But I also think the conversation about who the backup is, assuming Trubisky starts, is worth having.

There have been scenarios in the past in which the player who would start a game if necessary is not necessarily the gameday backup at that position, and may not even dress. We’ve seen head coach Mike Tomlin pull that several times over the years, as when Matt Feiler was inactive a handful of years ago, Chukwuma Okorafor dressing as the swing tackle; but when Marcus Gilbert actually missed time, Feiler dressed and started, and Okorafor remained the backup. That’s only the most prominent example off the top of my head.

I do think there is some credence to the idea that the more experienced veteran player would make for a better gameday backup quarterback due to the level of conditioned preparedness relative to the available in-season training. As sharp as Pickett has looked, he still needs prep work, and he’s going to get a lot less of it in the regular season.

If Trubisky were to be injured, then they could give him a full week’s worth of starter reps and practice to get him ready to start a game. But during a typical week, even if he were the backup, he will only get so many reps, and that could affect his ability to perform at a high level coming off the bench mid-game.

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