Dwayne Haskins is giving Pittsburgh Steelers a reason to be optimistic about QB situation

PAUL ZEISE
Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (TNS)
Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Dwayne Haskins (3) during an NFL football practice, Thursday, July 22, 2021, in Pittsburgh. (AP Photo/Keith Srakocic)

The 2021 NFL season hasn't even begun and there is already a discussion about the Pittsburgh Steelers' 2022 season.

That's mostly because there are many worried about the Steelers' quarterback position after Ben Roethlisberger retires, and Roethlisberger is expected to step away after this season.

There has been a lot of discussion about what the Steelers will do next along with predictions of them going to the "dark ages" without a franchise quarterback. That's how many observers describe the period between the Terry Bradshaw years and Roethlisberger's time, but it is often way overstated how bad that time frame was.

The Steelers made the playoffs 11 times, made it to the conference title game six times and made it to the Super Bowl one time in those "dark ages." Ask the Lions, Jets and a handful of other teams if they think that era for the Steelers was all that bad.

Sure, they didn't win a Super Bowl in that period, but they weren't lost in the wilderness, either. The strength of the Steelers organization and the fact that they will put a good team on the field around the quarterback most years dictates that no matter what, they won't become the bottom feeders of the league.

The thing that is encouraging is that it appears the Steelers may be in good shape at quarterback even without another addition. It is early in camp and there is a long way to go, so you have to be a little measured in talking about the future with Dwayne Haskins and Mason Rudolph.

A wild card: Haskins is the wild card in the equation. The Steelers took a chance on him with very little risk. He was a first-round draft choice of Washington, the 19th overall selection two years ago. He was considered a little bit of a project coming out of Ohio State but one with plenty of potential

He is the ultimate weapon in the modern day NFL. He has a big arm and he has a lot of athletic ability, so he can beat teams in a lot of ways. He is exactly what teams are looking for from the quarterback position these days.

His time in Washington was short and marked with a lot of issues that showed a lack of maturity on his part. He also showed a lack of accuracy, especially on his deep balls, and it was clearly not working so he was let go before he had played two full seasons.

The Steelers took a shot at Haskins for all the right reasons. It is a classic low-risk and high-reward move and one that the Steelers believed they could make work. They believed Haskins' talent was too good to pass up and they believed the strength of their organization and leadership would be able to help Haskins mature.

The thought was Haskins would compete for a practice squad spot and at the very least be an extra camp arm. And if he didn't pan out, the Steelers could easily cut him with no issues.

Better than hoped: So far, Haskins has been far better than anyone could have hoped. He has come in and not only pushed Rudolph for the backup job, but by most accounts he has outplayed the incumbent. The real proof will start to show itself this week when the preseason games begin, but so far, so good.

Rudolph is signed through next year and has shown some flashes that he can be an NFL quarterback, but he has been way too inconsistent for anyone to believe he is definitely going to be a starter of the future. He did show in the Steelers' final game of last season that he can be a competent starter and he is probably the best option as a deep ball thrower on the roster.

The best-case scenario for the Steelers is Rudolph shows enough in training camp and throughout the season to make the Steelers feel good about him as a potential starter for next season. That way they at least have one quarterback in the loop who knows the offense well and has worked with the receivers for a few years.

Needs to show maturity: And while that happens, Haskins needs to show he has put his immaturity issues behind him and is ready to become the quarterback Washington believed he could be when they drafted him in the first round. If that happens, the Steelers will have a first-round draft choice to take over for Roethlisberger without having to use a first-round pick to get him.

If that is the case, the Steelers will have hit a home run in their succession plan to Roethlisberger. They would have a high-level talent to be their starter and a savvy, capable player like Rudolph as their backup. That would give them an excellent shot at making a smooth transition and avoiding the "dark ages" that so many fear are coming.

It is a long way until that happens, but so far Haskins has shown that the Steelers were smart to at least take a chance on him. He has proven he is focused more on football and he is working to refine his skill set and accuracy. That's more than what many believed he would be capable of, and so far he has given the Steelers reason to be optimistic about his future.