2019 wasn't a good year for quarterbacks who donned the black-and-gold. Whether it was Ben Roethlisberger's elbow failing him in Week 2 vs. the Seahawks, Mason Rudolph's tumultuous season which included an ugly concussion and the brawl vs. the Browns, or Devlin Hodges failing when it mattered most, last season was one to forget.
Could the Steelers' depth at the quarterback position be better in 2020 compared to 2019? How could it be? It didn't even change.
But it could be better, and I think it will be better, based on one thing, experience.
The primary names on the depth chart haven't changed, but a few have been added. Players like Paxton Lynch, a former first round pick who was signed last season to be QB3 on the depth chart, and J.T. Barrett show up on the list of names, but few are giving them a chance to make an impact this season.
Let's be honest here, this entire discussion hinges solely on one thing, and that is the health of Roethlisberger's elbow. Mike Tomlin was asked about Roethlisberger's elbow during his virtual press conference last Tuesday, and this is what he had to say.
"I will say this, it is hearsay because I have not witnessed his workouts. I have communicated with him consistently throughout. He is comfortable and pleased with where he is. Some of the people that have had the opportunity to work out with him have been impressed and pleased with where he is. The medical experts are comfortable with where he is in the rehabilitation process and his overall readiness for 2020. All of those things being said, I am comfortable with where he is."
This isn't to suggest Tomlin would ever publicly state of Roethlisberger suffered a setback, or the organization isn't confident in his ability to return to full health, but everything said about Roethlisberger's road to recovery has been positive. And this is paramount not just when talking about the quarterback depth chart, but the overall success of the team.
The Steelers averaged just 18 points per game in 2019, and a large part of that was the fact the quarterback position was extremely green. Rudolph had never even dressed for a regular season game in his career, let alone been tasked with starting a game. In Rudolph's rookie season he rarely even saw practice repetitions, let alone being a part of a game plan.
Nonetheless, both Rudolph and Hodges received experience which was invaluable to their progress. Obviously, the hope is Roethlisberger doesn't get hurt in 2020, and Rudolph and company can help facilitate things on the sideline rather than in between the white lines, but if Roethlisberger does miss time, there is no doubt Rudolph or Hodges will be able to lean on their experience in 2019 to help them succeed in 2020.
When you look at the complete quarterback depth chart, you have to wonder if there will be any training camp battles within this position group. Let's take a look.
In my opinion, QB1 and QB2 are solidified. Roethlisberger and Rudolph are the clear top two on the roster, but after those two names things can get dicey. Hodges played well at times, but you saw his limitations down the stretch last season. Did he do enough to solidify himself with a roster spot in 2020?
Not so fast.
I do believe Hodges will start training camp as the QB3, he earned that right last season, but I fully expect the organization and coaching staff to give Lynch or Barrett, especially Lynch, a shot at overtaking the QB3 position on the depth chart.
This is the part where you can understand coaches' frustration about shortening the preseason. The games aren't fun to watch, but it doesn't mean they lack importance. Giving Lynch, Barrett and Hodges every opportunity to prove their worth will be vital. Cutting the preseason from four to two games, which hasn't been made official yet, would significantly limit their snaps. After all, you do have a starting quarterback who is almost a full calendar year out from throwing an NFL pass.
Say what you want, but based on experience it is clear the Steelers are more prepared at the quarterback position in 2020 compared to 2019.
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