Steelers’ Mike Tomlin: QB Depth Chart ‘Probably’ Set

Dwayne Haskins

Mitchell Leff/Getty Images Dwayne Haskins of the Pittsburgh Steelers warms up prior to the preseason game against the Philadelphia Eagles game at Lincoln Financial Field on August 12, 2021.

Pittsburgh Steelers quarterbacks Ben Roethlisberger and Mason Rudolph won’t play tonight against the Carolina Panthers in the team’s preseason finale. That means third-string quarterback Dwayne Haskins will get the start, with fourth-stringer Josh Dobbs coming on in relief, most likely in the second half.

Asked on Friday if this is an “accurate reflection of the quarterback depth chart,” Tomlin told Bob Labriola of “There’s fluidity in it, and you know we have a final test here tonight in Carolina.”

Tomlin went on to say: “We’re not playing Ben, and we’re not playing Mason, and that’s probably reflective of their position going into the process, but all quarterbacks have done a nice job…. At the end of this journey, we’ll establish that position in totality, but tonight we’re just excited about getting these two guys ready to play.”

That answer seemed to warrant a follow-up, so Labriola later circled back to the quarterback pecking order and asked whether the top of the depth chart is Ben Roethlisberger and then Mason Rudolph.

“You can assume whatever it is you want, but it may be wrong,” Tomlin said, confirming that he has not closed the door on anointing Haskins as Roethlisberger’s primary backup.

“Arm talent is the thing that really jumps out at you. His pedigree is very evident, really in all circumstances. There’s not a throw on the field he can’t make or doesn’t have the confidence in making,” Tomlin said, when asked about what he has seen from Haskins since he signed a one-year Reserve/Future contract with the Steelers in mid-January.

But the Steelers head coach also likes what he has seen in terms of the above-the-neck part of the game.

“Largely he has taken care of the ball throughout the process, and that’s been good. He’s been a fluid decision-maker in terms of getting the ball out of his hand in a timely manner…. There are some things that he needs to continue to work on, and all the quarterbacks have those things, but it’s been a good process for him,” Tomlin concluded.

Other Position Battles to Watch: Long Snapper …

As I noted on Thursday, the Steelers have several other key positions battles that are going down to the wire. That includes the long snapper job, which hasn’t been in doubt since 2017, when Kameron Canaday beat out sixth-round pick Colin Holba.

Now it’s Canaday whose job is in jeopardy, thanks to a challenge from linebacker Christian Kuntz, 27, a Pittsburgh native who first joined the Steelers in 2019, having played his college ball at Duquesne.

“Two years ago, we were playing in this game, and Christian had a sack (against Carolina) as an outside linebacker. He prides himself on being a football player,” Tomlin told Labriola, before noting that Kuntz asked if he could play some outside linebacker this summer.

“We said absolutely not, because in this camp, he’s a legitimate, viable candidate for the snapper position,” added Tomlin. “It has been extremely competitive, and he and Kameron Canaday will have an opportunity to put an exclamation point on their work tonight.”

… and Kick Returner

As for the chances of Mathew Sexton—aka Cheddar Bob—making the team strictly as a kick returner, Tomlin noted that it has happened before—a reference to Stefan Logan, who returned a punt 80 yards for a touchdown in the preseason finale against Carolina in 2009.

Sexton—who has averaged 29.3 yards per punt return this preseason—may need to do something similar on Friday night.

“Splash is what this game at this level is about, and from a return man’s perspective, the ability to finish is what distinguishes the elite from a lot of regular returners,” Tomlin said, noting that he hasn’t yet decided on the division of labor for the Panthers game.

“Ray-Ray McCloud may get a couple of returns tonight, so that’s to be determined,” he concluded. “But we’re appreciative of the work that (Sexton) has done thus far, and we’ll see what tonight holds.”

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