It was pretty obvious to anyone who watched the Steelers in the preseason: Mason Rudolph will be the Steelers' No. 2 quarterback behind Ben Roethlisberger.
At least for the opener against the Patriots next Sunday.
Rudolph was informed by offensive coordinator/quarterbacks coach Randy Fichtner Monday morning he would be the backup to Roethlisberger when the Steelers travel to Gillette Stadium to face the Patriots.
He then went out in practice and took all of the scout team reps. Huh?
"Ben took all of the No. 1 reps today, so I wanted to take some reps," Rudolph told me. "Plus, it’s Tom Brady, not that I’m comparing myself to him at all, but I would be the better look. It was a good day. We got a great plan together. That’s a fun period. You’re obviously trying to give the defense a look, but you’re trying to dice them up a little bit, too."
Rudolph did plenty of that in the preseason, cementing his status as the Steelers' backup ahead of last year's No. 2, Josh Dobbs.
In four preseason games, the second-year quarterback completed 65 percent of his passes for 368 yards, four touchdowns and just one interception. It was a far different result than he had as a rookie in 2018, when the third-round draft pick completed just 54.5 percent of passes.
"I felt great through OTAs and the whole offseason program," Rudolph told me. "I came back in April and felt totally more relaxed, more comfortable being around new teammates for a year, a new offense for a year. I was getting a lot of reps and being productive and then in training camp, trying to be productive through the games. It was fun."
And somewhat expected. When the Steelers traded up in the third round last season to acquire the former Oklahoma State star, it was with the idea that he would be an eventual replacement for Roethlisberger, who had hinted at retirement the previous year. But Roethlisberger, 37, signed a three-year contract extension with the Steelers in the offseason, meaning his contract will be up at the same time Rudolph's rookie deal is completed in 2021.
Rudolph, however, isn't thinking about the long-term picture just yet. His goal was simply to be in uniform in 2019. As the No. 3 quarterback last season, he was inactive for all 16 games, spending the year on the sideline in street clothes. Now, he'll be one play away at all times from actually appearing in his first NFL game.
"Yeah, that sucked. That was not fun," Rudolph said. "I told myself that I never wanted to be in that position again. That was my goal. That was what motivated me. That will be fun."
But with that spot also comes some additional pressure.
Mike Tomlin told Steelers.com the backup position behind Roethlisberger could change throughout the season, depending on practice performance.
"How long we occupy those positions is based on our level of performance,” said Tomlin. “So someone could win the job for the opener, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that’s their job. They have to prove it and earn it continually, like we all do. Ben Roethlisberger continually earns his job. We don’t talk about it because of his consistent level of performance, but every time he steps out on that field, that’s what he’s doing – he’s earning the right to be the quarterback of the Pittsburgh Steelers. So I thoughtfully take that approach to all that we do. I don’t make grand announcements when jobs are seemingly up for grabs because jobs are always up for grabs.”
Rudolph knows that and will treat the opportunity as such. Now that he's won the No. 2 spot, he's intent on keeping it.
"I just know I’ve got to be ready to go. I’m one play away," he said. "I always tried to prepare last year like I was the starter. That kind of helped. That won’t change. It’s just a bigger role, getting more reps during the season than I did last year. That will be exciting. I’ll try to help out Ben and the offense and Randy and try to do what I can."
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