PITTSBURGH — When Ben Roethlisberger left the Steelers’ game on Sunday and did not return for the second half, his teammates knew something was wrong.
The infamously tough, 6-foot-5 quarterback has been banged, beaten, battered and bruised many times in his 16 season in the NFL, and he has almost always found his way back to the field.
This time, it’ll be different. Roethlisberger will miss the rest of 2019 with an elbow injury that will require surgery.
Stepping into his size-13 shoes will be second-year quarterback Mason Rudolph, who made his career appearance in relief on Sunday and will be making his his first career start this Sunday in San Francisco.
There’s a huge drop-off in experience level from the Steelers’ last quarterback to their next, but it’s not something that seems to have the rest of the offense worrying.
“It was a shock, but you know it’s football,” running back Jaylen Samuels said. “It happens. We know injuries were going to happen. We knew adversity was going to happen at some point. It came to us pretty early. We’ve just got to bounce back.”
One of the reasons the Steelers are so confident in Rudolph is that they’ve seen the way the backup has prepared in the last season-plus. After being passed over in the draft and falling below expectations to the third round, the Oklahoma State alum has been singularly determined to be ready for this opportunity whenever it came.
“He prepares hard,” running back Jame Conner said. “This is what he wants to do, obviously. He wants to play and he got an opportunity. So I’m excited for him. I don’t think he’s nervous.”
There will, of course, be differences. They aren’t exactly the same player. But the differences are mostly related to Roethlisberger’s wealth of experience.
“He’s gonna throw the ball and make his reads,” tight end Vance McDonald said. “He’s just very deliberate about that. So that’s something that we can look forward to on offense. I think him and [offensive coordinator Randy Fichtner] have a great connection back and forth and I think he’s come a long way from last year.”
“When you’re in there with Ben, he can give you anything,” Samuels added. “The whole playbook. It can be stuff that that haven’t ran or ran this practice or even in the game plan. He just came up with it because he saw something in the defense. That’s what you get from Ben. You get more variety in the playbook when you’re out there in the no huddle. I’m sure Mason is learning. He’s been learning from Ben these last two years. I believe in him I’m sure everyone else believes in him in this locker room.”
The loss of Roethlisberger also comes on the heels of an inauspicious 0-2 start to the season for the Steelers. But they’re not panicking despite the double shot of adversity.
“We’ve just got to all believe in each other as a team and keep fighting,” Samuels said. “It’s still early. We’re 0-2. We can still go 14-2. It’s still going to be a great season.”
“We’ll continue to play football,” Conner said. “We’ll continue to play our game. We’ll rally around Mason and continue to work.”
ESPN’s Mel Kiper Projects Alabama C Landon Dickerson to Steelers in Latest Mock Draft
ESPN NFL Draft analyst Mel Kiper, Jr. predicted that the Pittsburgh Steelers will select Alabama center Landon Dickerson in the first round of the 2021 NFL Draft in his latest mock draft.
Kiper, who released his second mock draft of the season on Thursday, has the Steelers staying with the No. 24 overall pick in the first round to take Dickerson in a mock draft that has three trades in the first round.
The 6-foot-6, 325-pound Alabama grad could play center or guard, but would be immediately be slotted in as a replacement for retired starter Maurkice Pouncey at center.
Dickerson spent his first three seasons at Florida State before transferring to Alabama in 2019. He started four games at right guard and nine games at center in 2019 and started at center in 2020, where he was the winner of the Rimington Trophy as the country’s best center.
Dickerson suffered an ACL injury in the SEC Championship Game in December and concerns regarding that injury have depressed Dickerson’s draft value, but he is generally considered to be the best center in the class and no worse than a second-round pick.
Poll: What Was Biggest Issue with Steelers Running Game in 2020?
The Steelers finished dead last in the NFL in rushing in 2020 and general manager Kevin Colbert has seen it as a top offseason priority to rectify that standing going into 2021.
The Steelers have already made a change in coaching, with Matt Canada and Adrian Klemm taking over as offensive coordinator and offensive line coach.
There will also be substantive changes to the personnel, as starting center Maurkice Pouncey has retired and starting running back James Conner, left tackle Alejandro Villanueva, left guard Matt Feiler and right tackle Zach Banner are pending free agents.
“You can’t say the runners weren’t good enough or the quarterbacks weren’t good enough or the line wasn’t good enough,” Colbert said in speaking with the media last week. “To put out the kind of running game we did, no one was good enough. And again, that is a collective effort. … We need to finish (seasons). And I think having a strong running game helps teams finish in that time of year.”
With that being said, Steelers fans, which area of the running game do you think was the biggest issue in 2020?
NFL Insider John Clayton: Steelers Out of Running for J.J. Watt
One of the league’s most prominent insiders believes the Steelers are out of the running for free agent defensive end J.J. Watt.
Joining The PM Team on 93.7 The Fan on Wednesday, NFL insider John Clayton said Watt will not be joining his brothers T.J. and Derek in Pittsburgh.
Clayton sees the Tennessee Titans, Green Bay Packers and Buffalo Bills as the favorites to land Watt’s services.
For a potential dark horse, Clayton says the Las Vegas Raiders as an outside-the-box candidate to sign the veteran pass rusher.
.@JohnClaytonNFL says JJ Watt won't be coming to Pittsburgh. Tennessee, Green Bay, and Buffalo are the 3 teams. Raiders as a dark horse.— Andrew Fillipponi (@ThePoniExpress) February 24, 2021
Watt leaves Houston as one of the greatest players in franchise history. He was selected to five Pro Bowls, named First-Team All-Pro on five occasions and earned three NFL Defensive Player of the Year awards.
A future Hall of Famer, Watt is the Texans’ all-time leader in sacks (101), tackles-for-loss (172) and forced fumbles (25).
Watt recorded 52 total tackles, 14 tackles-for-loss, five sacks, two forced fumbles and returned an interception for a touchdown in 2020.