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Mike Tomlin: Mason Rudolph ‘Set the Stage’ with Preseason Performance

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PITTSBURGH — When the Steelers used a third-round pick on Mason Rudolph in the 2018 NFL Draft, many considered him as a potential heir apparent to starter Ben Roethlisberger, who had publicly considered retirement.

When Roethlisberger signed a contact extension through 2021, it seemed that the need for a replacement in the short term had lessened to the point that the pick invested in Rudolph could have been better spent elsewhere.

But Rudolph won the Steelers’ backup quarterback job with strong play throughout the 2019 preseason, showing a great improvement over his rookie season and providing a glimpse of his true potential as a possible future replacement Roethlisberger.

Head coach Mike Tomlin made that decision official on Tuesday, and talked about how Rudolph was able to sway his decision to unseat incumbent Josh Dobbs.

“He took very good care of the ball,” Tomlin said. “He showed the natural maturation process that we expect from second year players. He showed up in great physical condition. I think he showed a guy that has been a lap around the track in that regard. I think it set the stage for a more consistent performance. I think he has grown a lot in terms of his understanding of how we attack people and his role within the offense, and I think it showed within his play. All of those are reasons why he is the backup quarterback.”

But Tomlin cautioned that like all jobs, the backup quarterback for each week will be decided on a day-by-day basis.

“It is all very fluid just like all of our jobs,” Tomlin said. “I think one of the things you have to relay to a team, particularly at this portion of the season, particularly because we have a lot of young guys that are living out their dreams, guys wanting to make the 53-man roster, et cetera. They will continually earn those roles in those positions in the group day to day. It never ends. There is no opportunity to breathe a sigh of relief, if you will.

“It won’t be for Mason. It won’t be for any of us. He better earn that second quarterback job daily. If not, Dobbs will be waiting. That is just the nature of this thing at this level. We relayed that, not only to the quarterbacks but to all of the guys. This is just the beginning for us. How we proceed the division of labor, what we ask guys to do, the amount of which we ask guys to do, whether or not they continue to be here is based on performance. That is just professional football.” 

NFL

Steelers Connections Abound in Chiefs-Buccaneers Super Bowl

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While the Pittsburgh Steelers saw their Super Bowl LV hopes dashed two weeks ago, fans will recognize plenty of familiar faces when the Kansas City Chiefs and Tampa Bay Buccaneers meet on Feb. 7.

Six players with Steelers ties are expected to take the field in either red or pewter on Super Bowl Sunday, with the two most notable examples being Tampa Bay wide receiver Antonio Brown and Kansas City running back Le’Veon Bell.

Both missed their respective championship games due to injury, but could return to health in time for the Super Bowl with two weeks to recover.

In addition, the Chiefs also boast guard Stefen Wisniewski and punter Dustin Colquitt, who both spent time in Pittsburgh earlier this season.

Wisniewski is in line to make his second-straight Super Bowl start in response to injuries along the Chiefs’ offensive line suffered Sunday, while Colquitt is on Kansas City’s practice squad.

Former Steelers defensive back Ross Cockrell and nose tackle Steve McLendon will take the field for the Buccaneers defensively.

But Tampa Bay’s Pittsburgh connections do not stop on the field, as the Buccaneers will also have six coaches with Steeler ties on the sideline for the big game, including head coach Bruce Arians.

Arians, who is in his second season in Tampa, spent eight years in Pittsburgh, serving as wide receivers coach (2004-06) before being elevated to offensive coordinator (2007-11).

Bucs offensive coordinator Byron Leftwich played under Arians in Pittsburgh, and had three separate stints with the Steelers as a backup quarterback to Ben Roethlisberger.

Tampa Bay also boasts assistant head coach and run game coordinator Harold Goodwin, outside linebackers coach Larry Foote, offensive assistant Antwaan Randle El and assistant coach Tom Moore.

Even with the Steelers at home watching along with the rest of the country, Pittsburgh should have no shortage of rooting interests when the Chiefs meet the Buccaneers in Tampa in two weeks time.

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Steelers

Report: Steelers OL Coach Candidate Hank Fraley Retained in Detroit

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Former Pittsburgh Steelers offensive lineman Hank Fraley will reportedly be retained as the Detroit Lions’ offensive line coach, according to the Detroit Free Press’ Dave Birkett.

Pittsburgh reportedly interviewed Fraley last Thursday for their offensive line coach vacancy, but he has opted to remain with Detroit under new head coach Dan Campbell.

Fraley was a standout at Robert Morris before signing with the Steelers as an undrafted free agent in 2000. He was waived prior to the season, but played ten seasons with the Philadelphia Eagles, Cleveland Browns and St. Louis Rams. Fraley has spent the last two seasons as Detroit’s offensive line coach.

Pittsburgh’s search for their next offensive coordinator and line coach continues. The Steelers chose not to retain Randy Fichtner and Shaun Sarrett earlier this month.

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Steelers

Report: Steelers C Maurkice Pouncey Has Told Teammates He’ll Retire

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Steelers center Maurkice Pouncey has told teammates that he will retire, according to a report by Gerry Dulac of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.

Former Steelers guard Ramon Foster, now of DK Pittsburgh Sports, reported on Jan. 12 that Pouncey was “50-50” on whether he would return for the 2021 season.

The 31-year-old Pouncey just finished his 11th season in the NFL, all of which have been with the Pittsburgh Steelers. He has one year remaining on his contract, which would pay him $14.475 million if he returns. Just $6.475 million of that is guaranteed. The Steelers would save $8 million in cap space if he retires.

Pouncey made the Pro Bowl for the ninth time in 2020 and has also been a five-time Associated Press All-Pro. He was also a member of the NFL’s 2010s All-Decade Team, largely giving him Hall of Fame credentials.\

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