Mason Rudolph on Ben Roethlisberger, Steelers rebounding in 2019

NCAA Football, Pittsburgh Steelers


Mason Rudolph may still be a backup quarterback, but sees his Pittsburgh Steelers rebounding in 2019 behind quarterback Ben Roethlisberger.

2018 was not the year that the Pittsburgh Steelers anticipated. With lofty Super Bowl expectations heading into the season, Pittsburgh failed to qualify for the AFC playoffs in what was a frustrating year for the typical AFC North powerhouse.

However, the future remains bright for this model organization in the NFL. There are a ton of outstanding players on the team like quarterback Ben Roethlisberger and wide receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster. There are also several talented young players on this team like running back James Conner and backup quarterback Mason Rudolph.

Rudolph spoke with FanSided on behalf of Panini to promote their trading cards, as well as him helping out at the NFLPA Collegiate Bowl in Los Angeles this weekend.

“I think we were in a lot of close games. You have a couple of plays here, a couple of turnovers here and there that don’t go our way. But I think it just came down to a lack of execution on some parts, a lack of focus in some areas. But I think those things happen.”

“I’ve been doing work in Los Angeles for Panini America for a rookie appreciation event here at L.A. Live,” said Rudolph. “We’re part of the NFLPA Collegiate Bowl down here. These guys have been working all week to get evaluated and perform Saturday at the [Los Angeles Memorial] Coliseum. So we’re kind of doing our thing, sharing a hotel, seeing those guys and wishing them the best of luck on Saturday.”

After spending his rookie season as Roethlisberger’s backup in Pittsburgh, Rudolph offers two huge bits of advice for these former college stars that are about to become professionals: focus on time management and stay in shape.

“I saw it first hand. A lot of guys may not have been in as good of shape as others, and then tweak a hammy in rookie mini camp, practice one…It kind of sets you back for your rookie season. Coaches want to see you come in and hit the ground running and have it carry over into OTAs and the summer.”

Panini America

Besides staying in shape, Rudolph is working on keeping himself mentally sharp this offseason. He’s doing mental exercises and going through the numerous no-huddle calls of the Pittsburgh offense.

No-huddle is something Roethlisberger has grown very fond of in his certain Pro Football Hall of Fame Career. Rudolph has been impressed by it and is clearly trying to do the little things mentally to give him the edge he’ll one day need when his number is finally called.

That being said, staying mentally sharp wasn’t always the 2018 Steelers’ forte. They went 9-6-1 and missed the AFC playoff for the first time since 2013. When asked what he thought happened in Pittsburgh’s frustrating season, Rudolph summed it up simply to a lack of execution.

“I think we were in a lot of close games. You have a couple of plays here, a couple of turnovers here and there that don’t go our way. But I think it just came down to a lack of execution on some parts, a lack of focus in some areas. But I think those things happen.”

Pittsburgh certainly had a lot of noise surrounding the football team. From running back Le’Veon Bell’s highly publicized holdout, to wide receiver Antonio Brown’s self-serving antics towards the end of the season, none of it translated to winning.

Pittsburgh is a proud organization and Rudolph is sure the team will rally behind The Rooney Family and head coach Mike Tomlin in 2019. He feels that his teammates will be extra motivated to have a great offseason after all that transpired in 2018 on, and especially off, the field.

Mason Rudolph, Pittsburgh Steelers

(Photo by Mark Alberti/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

Even if Bell and Brown don’t play another snap in the black and yellow, Pittsburgh should still be in good shape on account of the winning culture already in place with the Steelers. They’ve had three head coaches since the late 1960s and The Rooney Family as owners the whole time. The Steelers also always seem to draft well.

An interesting wrinkle in the 2018 NFL Draft for the Steelers was that Rudolph and his college teammate in wide receiver James Washington were taken only a handful of picks apart that Friday.

Washington was a second-round pick, while Rudolph came to the Steelers 16 picks later as a third-rounder. Both former Oklahoma State standouts were pretty pumped about getting drafted by the same team after starring together in college.

“You know, it really didn’t sink in until 10 minutes after. I kind of celebrated with my family and did a couple of interviews before it really sunk in, ‘Wow! We’re going to keep this thing going. Let’s keep the connection rolling.’ So I was psyched. He called me as soon as I got drafted. We were laughing, just being excited for the time ahead.”

While Rudolph didn’t play in his rookie year, he definitely helped out his fellow Steeler/Cowboy in preparation. Rudolph would quiz Washington about whatever a week’s specific game plan was.

To Rudolph, it was imperative that Washington would be on his A game playing wide receiver in Roethlisberger’s offense. One day soon, it will be Rudolph’s team in the Steel City once Roethlisberger does hang up the spikes.

“He was definitely open to a lot of suggestions from me. Any questions I had, he was very willing to answer. I understood that he had a job to do primarily, and that was to win games this year. You know, I never wanted to make him feel like I was a burden, but that didn’t happen.”

“I don’t listen to the outside world. I know why they brought me here. It’s to be the quarterback of the Pittsburgh Steelers one day. And that’s why I’m so fired up to get back to practice and get back to the facility this April…There is no pressure, man. I always have high goals for myself. I put enough pressure on myself to perform and to produce.”

Being Roethlisberger’s supposed heir apparent might have caused a stir initially after Rudolph was taken in the third round of this past spring’s draft. While Roethlisberger might have scoffed at his eventual successor, Rudolph found the incumbent Pittsburgh starter a great guy to work with in the Steelers quarterback room.

“He was definitely open to a lot of suggestions from me. Any questions I had, he was very willing to answer. I understood that he had a job to do primarily, and that was to win games this year. You know, I never wanted to make him feel like I was a burden, but that didn’t happen.”

Rudolph clearly doesn’t feel the pressure of potentially replacing a legend. He instead goes about his work as a professional, trying to learn as much as he can from “Big Ben” while he is still playing at a Pro Bowl level.

“We do a lot of no-huddle. A lot of times, he’ll call a play with little to no one on the sidelines knowing what it is, other than his receivers on the field. It’s pretty impressive. He’s got a great natural ability to create and to put things together to move us down the field.”

In essence, Roethlisberger has always played the quarterback position with a bit of an ad-libber’s flare. Frankly, it’s not all that dissimilar to what we see out of signal-callers in Rudolph’s college conference of the Big 12.

Mason Rudolph, Pittsburgh Steelers

(Photo by Mitchell Leff/Getty Images)

When asked if he thinks the Big 12 style of quarterbacking has rubbed off on the NFL thanks to great first years starting out of Patrick Mahomes and Baker Mayfield, Rudolph feels it’s all about the situation with each team.

“I think it just depends. I think in my situation, you’ve got a quarterback who is entering his 16th NFL season. So there is a lot of traditional concepts. We may not have as many wrinkles or those RPOs, that college stuff…I think it has more to do with a young coaching staff and a young quarterback just trying to put him in a position to be successfully running a lot of the same carry-over concepts from college.”

Even if Rudolph is full steam ahead on his NFL career as a Steelers quarterback, he often takes time to keep up with his alma mater’s football program. Though former Alabama Crimson Tide quarterback Jalen Hurts is transferring to arch rival Oklahoma and Texas might finally be back, Rudolph feels good about his Pokes heading into 2019.

“I know that Coach [Mike] Gundy has always done a great job of reloading and making sure he’s hitting the recruiting trail.” While Oklahoma State might be in the midst of an open quarterback competition now that last season’s starter Taylor Cornelius has exhausted his final year of eligibility, the Cowboys have an “unbelievable talent at the receiver position in Tylan Wallace, a Biletnikoff finalist this [past] year.”

Rudolphs sees this as a testament to the outstanding job receivers coach Kasey Dunn has done in Stillwater over the years. Oklahoma State hasn’t been short of elite receiving talent in the last decade. From Dez Bryant to Justin Blackmon to Tyreek Hill to Washington, Wallace is definitely the next in line.

Of course, Oklahoma State will be losing key players to the draft this spring, albeit a year early in two of these players’ cases. Running back Justice Hill and defensive end Jordan Brailford are projected to be top-100 picks in the 2019 NFL Draft. Rudolph gave us a little preview on what these two guys could do at the next level.

“I don’t listen to the outside world. I know why they brought me here. It’s to be the quarterback of the Pittsburgh Steelers one day. And that’s why I’m so fired up to get back to practice and get back to the facility this April…There is no pressure, man. I always have high goals for myself. I put enough pressure on myself to perform and to produce.”

“I know Justice [Hill] well. He’s an extremely explosive kid. You saw it in his freshman year when he came in. He’s a little light playing at 185 pounds, but his ability to break tackles and maneuver through tight windows, his ability to navigate the line of scrimmage is second to none. He’s a great player that can catch the ball out of the backfield. He’s going to tear it up at the [NFL Scouting] Combine.”

As for Brailford, “Jordan is extremely explosive at defensive end. Kind of highly recruited out of high school. I think he’s going to do phenomenally well. He was always a pain in practice to navigate around. You kind of always had to plan for him. He’s very disruptive. So he’s a great pass rusher and great against the run.”

Regardless of how well Oklahoma State plays this fall, we can always count on Coach Gundy to have future NFL prospects all over the gridiron. It is a testament to the fine job he has done over the last decade plus leading his alma mater’s football program.

With it being conference championship week and all, of course, we had to sneak a question in about who Rudolph likes to win Super Bowl LIII. With no dog in the fight, Rudolph will sit back and watch legends like Drew Brees and Tom Bray go to work to see if he can’t learn something from their quarterbacking brilliance.

That being said, Rudolph did think it would be pretty cool to see tight end Benjamin Watson hoist the Lombardi Trophy for a second time in his excellent NFL career out of Georgia. Watson, who played at the same Northwestern High School in Rock Hill, South Carolina as did Rudolph, has announced that he will retire from playing after this season ends.

Though Watson could win his second Super Bowl in a few weeks in Atlanta, we can be assured that Rudolph will continue to put in the work to be ready when his number is finally called. He might be a long way from leading the Steelers to a Super Bowl championship. However, Pittsburgh certainly has a shot for No. 7 with Roethlisberger under center in the twilight of his prime. In the meantime, Rudolph will be there to back “Big Ben” up, waiting for his turn to shine in the Steel City.





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