Mason Rudolph will start the Steelers’ second preseason game this Saturday against the Kansas City Chiefs at Heinz Field, head coach Mike Tomlin said during his final pre-game press conference on Thursday.
The second-year quarterback impressed during his action while backing up Josh Dobbs in Pittsburgh’s preseason opener against Tampa Bay last Friday, and is one of several players that Tomlin expects to have a larger role the second time around after doing well in the first game.
“Guys that performed well last time out with get more exposure this time and probably more exposure against stiffer competition,” Tomlin said.
Tomlin said that Dobbs will play after Rudolph and that fourth-string rookie Devlin Hodges is expected to get some work, as well.
Rudolph attempted just eight passes against the Buccaneers, but he made them count, completing five for 91 yards and two touchdowns. That’s an 11.3 yards per attempt average, a large growth from the 7.2 yards per attempt Rudolph averaged in the 2018 preseason as a rookie.
“I think one of the things that really attracted us to him out of Stillwater was the level of aggression, they way that he attacked defenses vertically and threw the ball,” Tomlin said. “I know that’s his style, that’s his demeanor and it’s showing more and more consistently.”
While Rudolph’s first action against the Bucs came toward the end of the first half, he’ll get the opportunity to go against Kansas City starters — or as many of them will play.
Tomlin said that he expects to use more of his starters than he used in Week 1 of the preseason. Only right tackle Matt Feiler, inside linebacker Mark Barron and strong safety Terrell Edmunds started against Tampa Bay.
But the Steelers honestly don’t have that many position battles amongst the starters. The entire offense is returning except for Antonio Brown and Marcus Gilbert, and Feiler and Donte Moncrief seem to have locked up those spots.
On defense, Steven Nelson supplanted Artie Burns and Barron, first-round pick Devin Bush and Vince Williams are battling for two spots at inside linebacker. Instead, Tomlin is more focused on those players that are battling for jobs, whether it’s a game day helmet, a 53-man roster spot or a position on the practice squad.
“We are excited about this second opportunity, and I think the key element of that is opportunity,” Tomlin said. “Opportunities are starting to get scarce as we come to the conclusion of camp and start to continually step into stadiums. The sand is running through the hourglass. Guys are losing opportunities to state a case for themselves. There’s a certain urgency.”
With that being said, he’s “leaving the door open,” to use one of his pet phrases, for any player that is still working their way back from injury. A long list of Steelers missed practice on Wednesday, including Bush, David DeCastro, Zach Gentry, Joe Haden, Maurkice Pouncey, Christian Scotland-Williamson, Sutton Smith and Vince Williams. Tomlin didn’t rule any of them out for Saturday night’s game at Heinz Field.