An underrated training camp battle that Pittsburgh Steelers fans will be watching is the quarterback position.
When the Steelers drafted Joshua Dobbs, there was an assumption that he could be a longterm backup. His ceiling may not be a starting-caliber player, but he can step in for a series or two, or even a start. He won the backup spot over Landry Jones, and we saw him step in and convert a key first down early in the season at Cincinnati. However, we also saw at Oakland that Dobbs has more to climb to become that trusted back up.
Dobbs needs repetitions and game experience to step into that role. However, the Steelers also drafted Mason Rudolph in the third round last year. When the Steelers drafted Rudolph, much more “heir apparent” talk came. The team traded up for Rudolph after taking Dobbs a year before. They must really like the kid.
Considering he was inactive while Dobbs struggled at Oakland last season, his rookie season would have to be looked at as a disappointment. Did the Steelers future at quarterback really spend a year struggling to beat out the future backup?
Rudolph has size, arm strength, and accuracy. His biggest issue comes when it comes to playing off-script, and moving through his progressions. The speed and reactionary decision making cannot be simulated and can only be improved through game experience.
On top of all of that, it can be argued that Ben Roethlisberger may need more snaps this preseason than years past. Roethlisberger has two new wideouts in Donte Moncrief and Diontae Johnson. He is coming off of a year where he and James Washington could not get on the same page, and scrutiny has come from the Antonio Brown fallout.
It puts the Steelers into an interesting situation this preseason. How do they split four preseason games worth of snaps between three quarterbacks looking to get real game experience?
“Whenever my number is called upon in whatever role or position that is, I know I’ll be ready to execute,” Dobbs said before camp. “I’m just looking to continue growth and show more command in the offense.”
Preseason Game 1 vs Buccaneers
This has been a game that Roethlisberger has missed in the past couple of years. It has typically been shrugged off as the team would rather rest his arm. With his old friend Bruce Arians on the other sideline, does Roethlisberger get back into the swing of suiting up for week one? If he does play, it would be for a series or two.
Even Arians will likely give his starters just a series or two to knock the rust off for starters but the first week is important for identifying the end of the roster players to give more time to in the coming weeks. Tomlin has talked about the mental aspect of preparing for a game, and playing out the role of the starter is valuable for depth quarterbacks. This added to the reasoning of starting Landry Jones in these spots. Does Dobbs take over that role?
Prediction: Steelers give Dobbs his big chance to act in as a starter. If Roethlisberger goes down, that would currently be his job, and the team should want to see how he handles all of the pre-game prep. Dobbs will start and play the first half. However, Rudolph will likely come in for a two-minute drive situation late into the first half. He can get his jitters out, go into the half and lead the team back out for the entire third quarter into the fourth. Devlin Hodges can take the last drive or two.
Preseason Game 2 vs Chiefs
Expect to see Roethlisberger in game number two. Game three is known as the “dress rehearsal” which means the team prepares as if they are playing a regular-season game. Roethlisberger will not be cold for that game. However, it is still fair to question how much time he will get.
In the backup department, the performances of each in week one will help dictate week two.
Prediction: Roethlisberger will likely get two series, and may not make it out of the first quarter considering game flow. He will get a chance to get back into the swing of things, and maybe uncork a pass to Moncrief and Washington.
Dobbs has usually been slightly ahead of Rudolph on the depth chart, so he will step in for the second quarter, and get his chance to run a two-minute drill. Rudolph will get to play most-of, if not all of the second half.
Preseason Game 3 at Titans
Of the first eight quarters, Rudolph will have played roughly four with a close to a half and two starts to a half. Dobbs will have played around two quarters but will have a start and end of a half. With this amount of experience and all of the training camp reps, the Steelers should have a much better idea about where the room is than they did just three weeks prior.
This is could be the game where Roethlisberger earns some reps back that he does not usually get in the preseason. All starters will be active and the first drive will be entirely scripted to show us a glimpse of what we will get in the regular season. Roethlisberger usually finished a quarter but has not played into quarter two very often in recent years. This year he may get an extra series or two, considering the new starters at receiver.
Prediction: Roethlisberger plays into the second quarter. However, he does not finish the half. The quarterback that the team feels higher on will get another chance in the two-minute drill, and will also get to regroup at the half and lead the team out for the third quarter. This could be when the team moves from Dobbs to Rudolph.
That will likely only be one drive in quarter three, as the player who is third on the totem pole will get to finish out quarter number three, and Hodges will get to finish out the game.
Preseason Game 4: at Panthers
The team has prepared for Week One and has seen enough from their starters. This is likely where the backup will get another chance to start and play a full quarter that extends into quarter two. The number three quarterback will get to finish out the first half and play into the second half, and then Hodges will once again round out the preseason.
Prediction: Expect Rudolph to start this game, win the backup job and have Dobbs start the second half as the number three quarterback. Hodges, who has had at least an equal share, might force his way into playing the second half here. But the big takeaways is that if Rudolph has not passed Dobbs by that point, the investment of a third-round pick has to start being questioned.