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.”