LATROBE, Pa (93.7 The Fan) - With only two practices remaining before the preseason opener, the question of who will back up Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger is still very much up in the air.
Neither last year’s number two, Josh Dobbs, nor Mason Rudolph have grasped a clear grip on the position… yet.
Rudolph hopes for that to change, starting this week, which will culminate in Pittsburgh’s preseason opener against Tampa on Friday night.
“I’m having so much more fun,” Rudolph said of year two in the League. “It’s coming so much more naturally. The game has slowed down and I’m just ready to play a different set of uniforms other than our own guys, get out there and have fun and let it rip.”
Last year, Rudolph was not active for a single game, as Josh Dobbs not only beat out backup Landry Jones for a spot on the roster, but also the backup role to starter Ben Roethlisberger. Rudolph was forced to be a spectator, but was able to take advantage of that opportunity.
“It helped, because it had to help, because I made it help,” Rudolph said. “Obviously I wasn’t going to play, so that’s never fun. It’s a big change going from playing every year for seven years to not.
“I definitely made the most of it, enjoyed it, took what I could from Ben’s preparation, his on-the-field game tape and experience. Watching him operate was fun. I think I added some new processes to my preparation routine. I’m ready to let it go this week.”
Rudolph, who credits Roethlisberger's ability to extend plays with his feet, sees a different player in himself during this camp than last year’s. That should be expected from a player jumping from his rookie season to his second year, but is not always the case.
“Last year I was really competing with myself because I couldn’t get out of my own way,” he joked. “I didn’t have a total understanding, I was a little hesitant at times and wasn’t as aggressive throwing the ball as I should’ve been. That comes with the territory. So, year two, I already feel ten times better through the spring and ten practices out here.”
He credits his ability to put more zip on his deep ball and mechanical refinement while in the pocket as the biggest boosts to his performance.
“That’s always been a strong point in my game, so I’m trying to stay sharp in that regard,” he said. “There really haven’t been as many opportunities to throw it deep. I think I’ve tried to improve velocity when I have the chance to.
“I worked in California with a guy, a footwork mechanics specialist. We had so much time in the offseason, it’s like ‘why not work with somebody and get a different set of eyes on you?’ So that’s what I did and it paid off.”
Training camp is one form of the test for Rudolph and Dobbs. Four opportunities in the preseason, against more unknown opponents, should tell that tale on who gets a helmet on Sunday. While Rudolph and Dobbs know the man they’re battling, Rudolph is focusing internally.
“Just be consistent,” he said. “I’m competing against myself. When I look back against the competition I’ve had in high school, college and here, there’s always going to be somebody else on the roster that you’re competing with. And that helps you, you sharpen each other.”