PITTSBURGH (AP) — Mason Rudolph spent a portion of his offseason watching every snap he took for the Pittsburgh Steelers in 2019. In many cases, more than once.
The video reaffirmed to the third-year backup quarterback a couple of things. One, that he can be an everyday starter in the NFL and not just the fill in, as he was last year after Ben Roethlisberger exited at halftime of Week 2 with a right elbow injury. Two, plenty of work remains to be done for that to happen.
“I didn’t run our offense at the level to meet the Pittsburgh Steelers’ standard,” Rudolph said Saturday. “You look at the film and you look at your deficiencies and the way to improve. There is a lot of meat on the bone there.”
And not enough points.
Rudolph went 5-3 as a starter, a record mostly achieved thanks to the NFL’s fifth-ranked defense. He showed flashes of the big arm that led the Steelers to take him in the third round of the 2018 draft, but only flashes. At times he was tentative, others downright sloppy. The nadir came in an ugly loss to Cleveland in Week 14 remembered not so much for the four interceptions he threw but his run-in with Browns defensive end Myles Garrett, the one that ended with Garrett ripping off Rudolph’s helmet then slugging Rudolph over the head with it.
The aftermath included Garrett claiming Rudolph used a racist slur to trigger the incident before getting suspended indefinitely by the league. While the NFL found no evidence that Rudolph said anything, it put Rudolph on the defensive.
Rudolph is eager to move on. And maybe it’s telling that he was not asked about it during his 10-minute interview session that everyone else is ready to move on too.
The Steelers certainly seem eager to. Despite Rudolph’s uneven play — his 82.0 quarterback rating ranked 29th in the league — they saw enough in him to stand pat during the offseason. They didn’t sign a veteran to compete for the backup job and declined to identify a prospect in the draft. The unspoken message wasn’t lost on Rudolph.
“I think, yes, when the organization supports you and has faith in you moving forward, it is always going to build your confidence,” he said.
Pittsburgh did bring in Matt Canada to serve as the quarterbacks coach, relieving offensive coordinator Randy Fichtner of having to pull double duty. Canada’s job is to develop the group behind Roethlisberger, a group that includes Rudolph, Paxton Lynch and Devlin “Duck” Hodges, who briefly achieved cult status last season after meeting with a splash of success when he replaced a struggling Rudolph around Thanksgiving.
“I think it is going to be a big advantage when we are preparing for games this year when you have another mind, another season, football mind in there to collectively think and game plan,” Rudolph said of Canada’s impact. “Obviously, Randy (Fichtner) is leading that boat, but to have him there to supplement. He has a lot of good thoughts and he has done a lot of good things with the offense’s he has run in college. He has a good football IQ.”
A phrase that’s been used to describe Rudolph throughout his rise from high school to a record-setting career at Oklahoma State to the NFL. It’s why he didn’t just spend the offseason working out and rehabbing the left (non-throwing) shoulder after surgery just before Christmas. It’s why he painstakingly charted every play, looking for the improvements — both physical and mental — he’ll need to prove his innate self-confidence isn’t misplaced.
“I think each year you are not checking a box to go out and throw and lift weights,” Rudolph said. “You want to hone in on the nuance of what you need to improve to get better going into year three. That’s all I am trying to do.”