The quarterback situation for the Pittsburgh Steelers is a lot more stable this August than last year. The team has the same trio of passers, but their roles are much more defined this preseason.
The team has conducted their entire offseason program around the fact second-year first-round pick Kenny Pickett will start behind center. Last year’s starting front-runner in August, Mitch Trubisky, is his backup.
The Steelers re-signed Mason Rudolph this offseason, but the assumption was he is returning to what’s familiar to simply provide the team more depth as third-string. The San Francisco 49ers proved last year that NFL teams can never have enough quarterbacks in their rolodex.
However, SI.com’s AllSteelers’ Noah Strackbein argued that it’s not a foregone conclusion that Trubisky and Rudolph will be No. 2 and 3, respectively, on the Pittsburgh quarterback depth chart this season.
Rudolph played much better than Trubisky did in the team’s first preseason game against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers on August 11. Strackbein wrote that if that were to continue, then the two could conceivably switch spots on the depth chart.
“Nothing is going to be decided during the final week of training camp, but another game like he had in Tampa Bay against the Buffalo Bills, and there has to be a conversation about who Pickett’s backup is this season,” wrote Strackbein.
“Maybe the Steelers do have a quarterback competition brewing.”
Meanwhile, Trubisky went 1-for-4 with 10 yards and an interception.
Mason Rudolph Shines in Preseason Week 1
There are a few possible factors as to why Rudolph severely outplayed Trubisky in the preseason opener.
For one, Rudolph had more of a chance to shine with three times as many pass attempts as his backup counterpart. Trubisky also only played three drives versus Rudolph’s four.
Furthermore, Rudolph likely faced more backups and third-string players from Tampa Bay during his possessions than Trubisky did.
Still, all a player can do is take advantage of the opportunities presented to them. Rudolph did that.
In addition to the 67-yard touchdown pass, Rudolph led the Steelers on two other field-goal drives. His other possession ended in a punt.
Trubisky’s three drives resulted in a touchdown, punt and interception.
Mitch Trubisky, Mason Rudolph Battling for Steelers’ Backup QB Spot?
Although Trubisky didn’t stand out in Week 1 of the preseason, Strackbein wrote that he has performed well in training camp. Therefore, Rudolph’s performance is unlikely to propel him into the backup quarterback role for Pittsburgh.
However, Strackbein also argued that Rudolph isn’t “an unproven rookie heading back to training camp.” He has a lot going for him with the Steelers offense moving forward.
“The sixth-year veteran has starting experience, a relationship with Pickett and familiarity with offensive coordinator Matt Canada,” wrote Strackbein.
“It makes sense to move him up the depth chart if he outperforms Trubisky in the final two games.”
On top of outperforming Trubisky against the Buffalo Bills and Atlanta Falcons, Rudolph may have to look better than Trubisky in practice as well for the Steelers to make that change. But that isn’t out of the realm of possibility.
Trubisky led the Steelers to a 2-3 record with 4 touchdowns and 5 interceptions while averaging 7 yards per attempt in seven appearances last season. Rudolph didn’t play a snap as Pittsburgh’s third-string quarterback.
In 17 NFL games, Rudolph has thrown 16 touchdowns versus 11 interceptions with a 6.2 yards per pass average. He owns a 5-4-1 record as a starter.