UNITY TWP, Pa. – Ben Roethlisberger won’t play much at all over the course of the Steelers’ four-game preseason schedule. That’s a fact. And on the other hand, Mason Rudolph will see the field a lot over the course of the next four weeks. That’s also a fact.
Will Rudolph supplant Josh Dobbs as Roethlisberger’s solidified backup come Week 1 when the Steelers take on the defending Super Bowl champions in Foxborough?
That’s still open for interpretation.
The second-year QB will begin his quest to prove he’s the man for the (backup) job beginning on Friday, when the Steelers begin the preseason by taking on the Tampa Bay Buccaneers under the lights at Heinz Field.
Rudolph and Dobbs are competing for the No. 2 quarterback spot in camp, but performing well in practice and performing well in games are entirely different stories. Both need to be blended together before one can earn the trust of Mike Tomlin and Randy Fichtner.
“I think it’s a combination,” Rudolph said. “You’ve got to be consistent, which I have been on the practice field, but also make plays and show the trust is there on the field of play. It’s just a complete, collective showing of skills. I’m excited to do that (in the preseason).”
Rudolph is on the right track. Through OTAs and 10 training camp practices, he’s slinging it better than the rookie quarterback who self-admittedly struggled to grasp the intricacies of reading defenses at the NFL level last season. In fact, Rudolph’s steepest competition back then wasn’t Dobbs – or anyone else for that matter. Instead, it was the man in the mirror.
“Last year, I was really competing with myself,” he said. “I couldn’t get out of my own way. I didn’t have a total understanding. I was a little hesitant, at times. I wasn’t as aggressive throwing the ball as I should’ve been. That comes with the territory.”
Dobbs, who held the backup job over Rudolph last season, has flashed progression, as well. He’s visibly more comfortable behind center and increased his accuracy on short-to-medium range throws – one of his biggest knocks coming out college. And alike Rudolph, Dobbs isn’t necessarily focusing on the two-horse backup QB race over controlling what he can control.
“I try to compete against myself,” Dobbs said. “Whatever I did the day before, I try to improve on it, build on it. Always focus on one thing to improve on a day-to-day basis. That’s my biggest competition. Competing against yourself. Competing against complacency.”
Another quarterback to watch throughout the preseason will be Devlin Hodges. The undrafted rookie out of Samford (FCS) has impressed during camp, flashing poise in the pocket and a willingness to let it rip without hesitation. He has received ample opportunity alongside Rudolph and Dobbs in practice, and that won’t change once the bright lights turn on this weekend.
“He’s getting some opportunities, and he’s going to get some opportunities,” said Tomlin. “Every man here is a man who has a legitimate opportunity, particularly so when Ben is the quarterback because you know there’s going to be regularly scheduled days off and increased opportunity for others. We’re not taking (Hodges’) presence for granted, and neither is he.”
Tomlin confirmed on Wednesday that Dobbs will start against the Buccaneers, followed by Rudolph.