When it comes to NFL rule changes for the 2023 season, there aren’t a lot that will move the needle in a positive way for most Pittsburgh Steelers players.
The whole team will have to deal with playing a second Thursday Night Football game for the first time. The changes to kickoffs, including greater inducement to fair catch, will be a drag on some and a boon to others. The league will now let players wear number zero, but the Steelers aren’t letting rookie tight end Darnell Washington wear it.
But there is one rule that will have a large impact on at least one Steelers player. The change, made at the spring league meeting in Minnesota last month, to allow teams to dress and play their third quarterback in case the other two are injured, means that Steelers No. 3 Mason Rudolph will be dressed for every game this season.
“It’s better to be out there dressed,” Rudolph said. “You might feel a little more part of the team. But the job doesn’t change. From a mental preparation standpoint, you’re still trying to sort of be a coach out there and help do what you can.”
Rudolph said he couldn’t think of a circumstance in his time with the Steelers since 2018 when the team would have used a third quarterback, but the NFL was obviously exposed to that situation last season, when the San Francisco 49ers, already starting their No. 3 quarterback, lost Brock Purdy and backup Josh Johnson to injury in the NFC Championship Game.
“It’s obviously the NFC Championship Game rule,” Rudolph said. “It’s good for me and it’s good for a lot of guys. I think it’ll help the game and protect against a scenario like that.”
The third quarterback will only be able to go into the game if the starter and backup are either injured or ejected, and will have to come out of the game if they become able to play. But it will prevent the scenario we saw on the field last season.
It will also likely prevent a scenario where Steelers emergency quarterback Zach Gentry will be forced to take the field. Gentry, who was a top high school recruit at quarterback on his way to Michigan before making the move to tight end with the Wolverines, has been the team’s emergency backup for a while now, but has not been called on to perform that role in a game to this point.
“It definitely opened our eyes a little bit, I think, this last season,” Gentry said. “Coach has always done a really good job of making sure that every once in a while, I get some center-quarterback exchanges and stuff.”
Now that Gentry is relegated to the fourth option at quarterback, it seems unlikely that the Steelers will ever need him to play that role. But he’s fine with continuing to be ready, just in case.
“I’m not sure exactly, going forward, how that’s going to play out,” he said. “It’s better to be over-prepared than under-prepared, for sure.”