PITTSBURGH (AP) — Mason Rudolph started wearing the No. 2 while playing high school football in South Carolina. He kept it during his record-breaking career at Oklahoma State, where he left as the program’s all-time winningest quarterback.
When the Pittsburgh Steelers let him know No. 2 was available when he reported for rookie minicamp, he jumped at the chance.
The two-time defending AFC North champions raised eyebrows when they traded up to grab Rudolph in the third round of the draft — with general manager Kevin Colbert stressing the team had given Rudolph a first-round grade. Rudolph is well aware that he’s second on the depth chart — and more likely third — behind Ben Roethlisberger and Landry Jones.
“I’m looking forward to embracing my role now on this team and learning,” Rudolph said Friday after finishing his first practice as a pro along with the other rookies and first-year players.
And just in case Rudolph needed a reminder about his status, Roethlisberger provided a few in recent weeks when he expressed surprise the team used such a high pick on a quarterback when the 36-year-old two-time Super Bowl winner plans to play until he’s nearing his 40s.
Rudolph didn’t take it personally and pointed out Roethlisberger sent him a text on Thursday wishing him luck.
“I think the media got kind of twisted around a little bit,” Rudolph said of Roethlisberger’s comments to both the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette and 93.7 The Fan radio in Pittsburgh. “I think he’s a competitor. He’s a Hall of Fame quarterback and he’s a competitive guy and that’s what I would expect.”
Then again, so is Rudolph. Save for the first 10 games of his prolific career at Oklahoma State, Rudolph has been the starting quarterback for whatever team he was on since his sophomore year of high school. Waiting until the third round while five of his peers went ahead of him– including college rival Baker Mayfield — is something Rudolph admits he’ll carry with him for a long time.
He may need something to keep the fire burning as he spends this fall (and perhaps several others) on the sideline with a clipboard or a headset during games.
“I’m here to prove myself,” Rudolph said. “That’s the way I approach every facet of my life. But I don’t feel like I’ve got to prove anything to anyone other than these coaches and my teammates.”
Rudolph received new offensive coordinator Randy Fichtner’s playbook about a week ago, one he’s tried to split up into parts so he’s not overwhelmed by its volume.
There will be adjustments along the way. He worked almost exclusively out of the shotgun at Oklahoma State while running coach Mike Gundy’s “Air Raid” offense. Though he’s spent the last several months doing a crash course on working under center, there were a couple of missed exchanges on Friday.
At one point, when a play didn’t go as crisply as Rudolph liked, he asked Fichtner if he could run it again. It wasn’t a surprise to rookie wide receiver James Washington, a teammate of Rudolph at Oklahoma State and a second-round pick by the Steelers, taken 16 selections ahead of his good friend.
“He’s a perfectionist,” Washington said. “He doesn’t like things sloppy. I mean if it’s sloppy he’s going to redo it. That’s something that will help him.”
Washington also isn’t concerned about Rudolph taking a backseat for now. They both knew what they were getting when coach Mike Tomlin called him two weeks ago to say they’re coming to the Steelers. This isn’t a rebuilding project. Pittsburgh is built to win now.
Barring injuries, Washington will be asked to make more of an immediate impact than Rudolph. That doesn’t mean Rudolph is going to lose his patience.
“He’s a strong-minded guy,” Washington said. “He doesn’t care about the hype. He’s just another guy looking for a job.”
And Rudolph understands his job is to soak up what he can from whomever he can and not let egos or agendas or anything else get in the way.
“I’m sure when we get in this building, in this (quarterback) room … we’re going to be friends and I’m going to let (Roethlisberger) do his thing,” Rudolph said. “I’m going to try and pick up what I can from him but not bother him.”