On Tuesday Pittsburgh Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin indicated that quarterback Mason Rudolph will start in place of Ben Roethlisberger on Sunday against the Cleveland Browns. If you believe Michael Silver of NFL Media, the third-year backup won’t be getting much assistance from Roethlisberger as he prepares to make his ninth career start and first of 2020.
Appearing today on NFL Network, Silver said: “I don’t think Mason Rudolph’s going to get a lot of help from Ben Roethlisberger in this prep. I’m told they really don’t have much of a relationship, so the young player is going to have to sink or swim on his own here.”
If I'm Mason Rudolph, there's one @steelers starter I'm begging Mike Tomlin not to rest against the @Browns … From NFL Now with @AndrewSiciliano @MarcRoss @AKinkhabwala @nflnetwork pic.twitter.com/r7taLHw11D
— Michael Silver (@MikeSilver) December 29, 2020
The Ben Roethlisberger-Mason Rudolph Relationship
This bit of news probably won’t surprise Steelers fans. It’s nothing more than anecdotal evidence, but I’m hard-pressed to think of a time when Roethlisberger and Rudolph have been seen together on the sidelines this season. On the other hand, Roethlisberger is often seen sitting on the bench—and looking at a tablet—with third-string quarterback Josh Dobbs, who will likely be active and in uniform for the first time in 2020.
Of course, NFL starters often have a frosty relationship with their primary backup, many times because the backup presents a legitimate threat to the starter’s job. The most famous example of this, perhaps, came when Steve Young was threatening to usurp Joe Montana as the starter for the San Francisco 49ers—one future Hall of Famer in line to replace another.
As for the current situation in Pittsburgh, Rudolph doesn’t present a direct threat to Roethlisberger, as the former third-round draft choice lacks the natural ability to challenge for Big Ben’s job. Instead, Roethlisberger seems destined to be defeated by Father Time, assuming he doesn’t retire before then.
Former Steelers QB Charlie Batch on Backups and Starters
Anyway, according to former Steelers backup Charlie Batch—who began his 12-year career as a starter in Detroit—the frostiness between starters and backups can go both ways, and some backups are decidedly unhelpful to the quarterback ahead of them on the depth chart.
In a brand-new story about Miami Dolphins quarterbacks Ryan Fitzpatrick and Tua Tagovailoa and “the art of mentoring the competition,” Batch told ESPN: “Some backups don’t want to help the starter because they want to play. In some cases the backups won’t share information, or maybe they’re holding back info on audibles—they don’t want to see the starter succeed.”
Of course, Big Ben has barely an inkling of what it’s like to be an NFL backup. He has come on in relief of another quarterback only twice in his 17-year career. In the second game of his rookie season subbed in for Tommy Maddox when Maddox suffered an elbow injury.
Then, in a 2015 game between the Browns and Steelers at Heinz Field, backup Landry Jones started in place of Roethlisberger, who was nursing a bad ankle. After nine snaps, Jones sustained an injury that left him unable to continue. Roethlisberger came on in relief and completed 22 of 33 passes for 379 yards and three touchdowns to lead the Steelers to a 30-9 victory.
According to the aforementioned article, after the game the already retired Batch interviewed Roethlisberger for the Steelers postgame show. Off camera, Roethlisberger said, “Charlie, I don’t know how you [did] this s—-. Not knowing when you’re playing but always having to be ready. That right there? That’s the hardest thing I’ve ever done.”
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