By Jeremy Hritz
The first Steelers preseason game is now in the history books, and the team has their eyes set on Jacksonville, as they eagerly prepare to hone their craft this Saturday at 7:00 pm against the Jaguars. They are still positional battles that have yet to be decided: left guard, backup running back, and “Mack” inside backer (Devin Bush is doing his best to give away the job). And the most important positional battle of all, quarterback.
Head Coach Mike Tomlin said this offseason that all three quarterbacks, Mitch Trubisky, Mason Rudolph, and Kenny Pickett all have a legitimate opportunity to be the starting signal caller come week #1 against the Bengals, and it seems it is something that the QBs believe as well. However, is the competition truly open, and will it be a meritocracy that decides the starter when the preseason concludes?
I’m not so sure. In fact, I think the roadmap for the season at quarterback is already decided.
Back in March, the Steelers signed Trubisky to a 2-year deal, as they valued his 50-games starting experience. And then in April, with their first-round draft selection, they picked Hometown college hero Pickett. In reading in between the lines, bringing 2 new quarterbacks onto the team speaks to the desire to bolster the position. It’s undeniable.
If the Steelers were authentically satisfied with what Rudolph offered to this team as the starter, why wouldn’t they stand pat at the position in free agency? It is understandable to draft a quarterback, but to also sign one in free agency, and an experienced one at that, red flags should be raised.
There are many who believe that Rudolph legitimately has an opportunity to be the starter, and that could be the case. Omar Khan even went as far to say he does not see a trade coming at the position for the Steelers (Rudolph to another team, for example). But I beg to differ.
Trubisky will be the starter for the opener against the Bengals, and Tomlin even hinted at this last week in his comments, citing his valuable experience that separates him from Rudolph and Pickett. However, for your backup, why would you go with Rudolph, whom you already know what he can do and what his ceiling is, over your first round draft selection, and a player who has progressively improved throughout training camp?
Pickett is your QB#2, and if Trubisky struggles in his first 6 or 7 games, the rookies number will be called. And if this is the case, why keep Rudolph on the roster?
With the unfortunate reality of injuries at the QB position in the NFL, teams are always in need, and based on the hype Rudolph has been receiving this camp and his decent performance against the Seahawks, quite possibly, his trade value could be climbing.
If Rudolph is moved, I can’t envision anything better than a 6th, maybe 5th round selection, and why not give this guy an opportunity to go and prove he can be a starter in this league? Pickett was drafted to be a #3, and he definitely isn’t playing like one. And if he continues to thrive this weekend in Florida, the argument for cutting the Rudolph bait will become stronger.
This much is certain: Trubisky is your starter, and Pickett is your #2. Where Rudolph stands in all of this remains to be seen.