LATROBE, Pa. — Pittsburgh Steelers rookie quarterback Mason Rudolph exudes confidence heading into his first NFL preseason game Thursday against the Philadelphia Eagles.
Rudolph admitted that jitters may be there as the Steelers prepare to face the defending Super Bowl champions in Philadelphia. But the Steelers’ third-round pick has settled into a comfort zone two weeks into training camp.
"It’s just football," Rudolph said. "I think everyone has a little bit of nerves because it’s going to be the first one back. But just like your debut in college, you get out there, you make a completion and it starts flowing like football has always been."
Rudolph is in a fight for the backup quarterback spot behind Ben Roethlisberger. Steelers coach Mike Tomlin said Tuesday that Rudolph will see time under centre against the Eagles, along with veteran Landry Jones and Josh Dobbs, the Steelers’ fourth-round pick a year ago.
Tomlin is eager to see how Rudolph can direct the offence and maintain possession.
"Mason’s done a really good job, but he hasn’t been hit," Tomlin said. "Ball security is much more difficult in-stadium because a training camp environment is controlled in a lot of ways. You don’t touch or get close to the quarterback, so a quarterback’s ability to secure the football doesn’t get tested until they play in-stadium preseason football."
Rudolph will have an opportunity to show how far he’s come since the Steelers traded up to select the Oklahoma State star with the 76th overall pick, the highest the organization has taken a quarterback since Roethlisberger was the 11th overall selection in 2004.
During spring practices, Rudolph impressed, but he also missed a couple centre-quarterback exchanges after working almost exclusively out of the shotgun both in high school and at Oklahoma State.
"We cleaned it up for the most part," Rudolph said. "I’m just starting to feel a lot more comfortable under centre after not doing it the last eight years of my life."
Rudolph also had an inauspicious start at training camp when he ran a bootleg to the right and fumbled his first pass attempt backward. That gaffe is far from Rudolph’s mind.
"I could (not) care less about the first pass," Rudolph said. "I have a lot of first passes. I had my first pass in OTAs and rookie minicamp. I’m thinking about the next pass. If one play goes bad, the next play can be the one that wins it, or gets you back in the game."
Rudolph has found his groove after a rocky first week at camp. The rookie looked comfortable and crisp while running the two-minute offence at the end of a practice last week. Rudolph finished the drill an efficient 5 of 6 for 52 yards, which included a practice-ending 14-yard touchdown pass to rookie running back Jaylen Samuels.
"I just want to progress," Rudolph said. "You obviously dream about playing in the NFL, but once you get here, you take it one day at a time. I think that’s the way I’ve approached practice and it has gone well.
"I’m just focused on completing passes and making sure I’m taking mental steps forward every day."
The next step forward for Rudolph will be into a NFL stadium for his preseason debut — against an opposing defence.
"You’re playing your own team every single day and you get frustrated because they start to learn your calls, they’re cheating on your install sheet, printing your stuff out and trying to game plan against you," Rudolph said. "And then you get out there in a game and it’s easy because those guys are scared, they’re all tight, they want to be in their spots, they don’t want to get yelled at by their coach, and you end up scoring points and driving down the field. That’s the way I feel this will go."
NOTES: Tomlin said Roethlisberger won’t play Thursday against Philadelphia. . Wide receiver Antonio Brown missed practice again Tuesday, but he worked out alone on an adjoining field. He will miss Thursday’s game along with LBs Bud Dupree and T.J. Watt, and TE Vance McDonald.