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Rudolph Feeling Poised Heading into Preseason

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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.

Steelers

Highlights from Steelers Practice 9/24/20

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While it’s odd to see referees standing out in a clip of highlights, Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin’s plan to incorporate actual refs into practice this week happened on Thursday.

Tomlin explained he is adding refs to practice to ensure his team is more disciplined, which hopefully leads to less penalties in their game this week compared to last week.

Wide receivers James Washington, Diontae Johnson and tight end Eric Ebron run routes and catch passes in this clip.

Footage courtesy Pittsburgh Steelers

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Steelers

Ben Roethlisberger Says Form, Mechanics Can Be Better Despite Hot Start

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To hear Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger tell it, he can better than what he’s shown on the field in his first two weeks since returning from elbow surgery.

He’s not happy with his footwork, he thinks he’s dropping his arm a bit and needs a more consistent release point.

The statistics, however tell another story. They say Roethlisberger has been operating at a higher level of precision than ever before. So which is it? Maybe both.

“I do feel I got a little lazy with my feet, which then, in turn, translated to a lazy arm,” Roethlisberger said. “There were some throws that I kind of dropped my elbow, if you will. I don’t want to get too technical, but it became more of a three-quarter release instead of an over the top when I didn’t need to. There are obviously times you have to change your release point. There were too many throws, I felt looking back, that I just have to get my feet working better, and that will then translate, hopefully, to the rest of the body. Then, I won’t be guiding some of the throws.”

Here’s an example from the game Roethlisberger’s form getting a little sloppy. He throws this ball flat-footed and almost all with his right side, getting less power behind it than usual and resulting in a pass that ends up behind JuJu Smith-Shuster instead of allowing him to build a head of steam toward the defenders at the line of scrimmage.

Is this a big deal here? Not really. Smith-Schuster probably couldn’t have done much better than he did at bulling over the defender, anyway. But this is also a route into the flat on the near side of the field. Over longer distances, that can make a big difference.

“I’ve gotten away with it in the past being able to not necessarily be perfect from the ground up and just letting my arm kind of make up for a lot of things, a lot of imperfections if you talk to quarterback people,” Roethlisberger said. “I feel great. I just need to get it in my mind that I can still make the throws when I’m not in the perfect position to make them.”

All of that can be true, and yet, it’s hard to argue with the results. Through two games, Roethlisberger has a 68.5 completion percentage. His career season high was 68% in 2015. In a game and a half last year, it was 56.5%.

His passer rating, even with an interception against the Broncos, is 107.1. His career season-long high came in 2o07, when he finished with a 104.1 mark. Last season before his injury, it was 66.

Some of that can be explained by a passing scheme that has take fewer deep shots down the field than it has in years past. His yards per pass attempt sits at 7.4, lower than all but four of his other 16 seasons.

Mechanical inconsistency can certainly have a greater impact on longer throws, so the Steelers’ somewhat more methodical offensive approach could be helping Roethlisberger get into the swing of things.

“Maybe some of that just comes from not playing a lot of football,” he posited. “I played two games this year. I played a game and a half last year, so really, it’s about three and a half games in two years if you think about it. It’ll come. Like I said, if I’m having these issues and we are still winning football games, that’s a plus.”

If a 2-0 record with career highs in passer rating and completion percentage is what he looks like with mechanical issues, the NFL should be very worried about what might happen if he gets into a groove.

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Highlights from Steelers Practice 9/23/20

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David DeCastro practices with the Steelers after missing the first two games of the season. Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin explained to the media, including Mike Asti and Alan Saunders of Steelers Now, that he is evaluating DeCastro and he could start their week 3 game against Houston.

Joe Haden can also seen working on one-on-one coverage drills with the rest of the secondary.

Footage courtesy Pittsburgh Steelers

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