Football is so close you can taste it.
The NFL preseason gets started this week, and for one former Cowboy it’s about more than just an exhibition.
We’ll get our first taste of preseason football on Friday night when the annual Hall of Fame game pits the Steelers against the Cowboys at Tom Benson Stadium in Canton, Ohio. Mason Rudolph has earned the starting nod.
He enters Year 4 with Pittsburgh and his third as Ben Roethlisberger’s backup. Big Ben will sit out of Friday’s exhibition giving Rudolph the chance to reinforce his position among the Steelers depth chart.
A starting job for Rudolph is so close that he can taste it.
Rudolph may not be the slam dunk franchise QB according to fans or pundits, but he’s in a pretty good spot and he’s just a turned ankle away from a chance to prove he can be the leader of Pittsburgh’s offense.
In 2019, after spending his entire rookie season on the sidelines, Rudolph beat out Josh Dobbs, the Steelers’ draft pick the year before Rudolph, for that coveted QB2 spot, and it resulted in eight starts when Roethlisberger went down with injury.
It wasn’t a perfect showing. He passed for 2,089 yards and 13 touchdowns but threw nine interceptions and has some growing pains (and some bumps and bruises) in his first year in action. But now has two more years of experience and he would do well to look the part each time he steps on the field, exhibition or not.
And this year he has a bit more competition.
There have been reports that recent addition, and former first-round pick, Dwayne Haskins has been pushing for Rudolph’s spot in training camp so far, though the tenured Steeler will get the nod on Friday.
According to Pittsburgh head coach Mike Tomlin, the plan is for Haskins to finish the first half and for Josh Dobbs to end the game.
Across the field, Dallas quarterback Dak Prescott is not expected to play as he rehabs a shoulder injury, pointing to an unofficial QB depth chart of Garrett Gilbert, Ben DiNucci and Cooper Rusher, per The Dallas Morning News.
That means it will be between Rudolph and Gilbert (a 30-year-old with one career TD) to fight it out for the first score of 2021.
Last week Rudolph was asked about if he considers himself the established No. 2 at the start of training camp. He answered (and deflected) like a true pro.
“Football’s all about competition,” Rudolph said according to Steelers.com. “That’s the beauty of the sport. I think when everyone’s playing great, it raises the level of competition. Coach Tomlin talks about ‘iron sharpens iron’ all the time, and we view it the same way. …
“It’s a great quarterback room, having all those guys with NFL experience. Obviously, the hall of fame experience is one thing but the rest of us really enjoy working together.”
Roethlisberger is entering his 18th season as the Pittsburgh Steelers’ franchise quarterback, meaning the team’s QB2 spot is growing more and more coveted by the day. Whether this ends up being Big Ben’s final year or not (as has been speculated), there is a decent chance that the heir to his post is currently on Pittsburgh’s roster.
The Steelers know what they have in Rudolph after four years and expressed some confidence in him — at least as a backup — when they signed him to a one-year, $5 million extension this past April. That keeps him on the Steelers’ book through 2022.
For Rudolph, and the rest of the quarterbacks in the room, every play matters, exhibition or not.
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