The Steelers believe in Mason Rudolph.
The team drafted Rudolph in the third round of the 2018 NFL Draft then brought him along slowly, easing him into the playbook and into the duties of an NFL quarterback. Last year, his rookie season, he didn't play a snap. Heck, he wasn't even active, sitting behind Josh Dobbs for the entirety of the season.
In 2019 however, Rudolph won his camp battle against Dobbs, earning the primary backup role for the Steelers and cementing himself as the clear No. 2 in the organization. Dobbs was then shipped to the Jags for a fifth-round pick.
Then Ben Roethlisberger went down with a season-ending elbow injury, and No. 2 became No. 1 in a flash. Many felt the team would simply pack it in on 2019, punt the season and return stronger in 2020.
They traded for Minkah Fitzpatrick instead, making the heavy investment of a 2020 first-round draft pick. Clearly, the team likes what it saw from Rudolph in his first taste of regular-season NFL action, and they believe he can continue to build on that moving forward.
Throughout the second half of the Steelers' 28-26 loss the Seahawks in Week 2, Rudolph went 12 of 19 for 112 yards with two touchdowns and an interception that's more on Donte Moncrief than it is on Rudolph. So that's all positive.
Even more positive? Rudolph's immediate command of his troops. He's got the "it" factor in the huddle, and his teammates took notice.
“He gets fired up," Jaylen Samuels was saying at his locker at the Rooney Complex. "He’s got something about him when he’s doing something good. It kind of gets everybody going. He’s [just] got something about him."
That's Samuels, though, himself a second-year player looking to make an impact on this Steelers offense. He came into the league with Rudolph, so it only makes sense he'd feel an elevated attachment and level of kindness toward the team's new quarterback.
“How about Mason, huh? I mean, he comes out onto the field, and he just takes charge."
Now that? That wasn't Samuels. That was two-time first-team All-Pro, four-time Pro Bowl, eight-year veteran guard David DeCastro talking to our Dejan Kovacevic after the loss to the Seahawks at Heinz Field. DeCastro was asked if there was anything positive to take away from the game, and, yeah, there was: Rudolph.
"Tough situation, tight game, he’s ice-cold, and he comes out for the first time, and he’s the one booming at us," DeCastro added. "You know what I’m saying?”
Yeah, we know what you're saying, Mr. DeCastro. But do you wanna say it one more time for the people in the back?
“He just came in with a lot of confidence," DeCastro added Monday at the Rooney Complex, his first time speaking with media following the announcement that Roethlisberger's season was a wrap. "He came in with limited reps as a backup and did a pretty good job.”
JuJu Smith-Schuster, somebody who's never been shy about his love and trust of Roethlisberger, picked up on it, too.
“I know he’s a great leader and he’s somebody that we all trust," Smith-Schuster was saying at his locker.
Then there's James Washington, a player who knows Rudolph better than anyone else on this Steelers team. Washington played three years with Rudolph at Oklahoma State, and the two worked well together. That carried over into the preseason, where the two have had a clear and obvious connection every time they stepped onto the field. Now, they need to translate it to real games that matter.
From Washington's perspective, if it doesn't materialize for whatever reason, it won't be for a lack of command of the offense on Rudolph's part.
“This guy? Right away, man. Right away," Washington was telling DK of Rudolph's ability to take charge in the huddle. “Mason’s been that way forever. When he goes into that huddle, you hear his voice. Loud and clear. He’s in charge. It’s his huddle.”
It's his huddle now, at least. Here he goes.
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