PITTSBURGH – Ben Roethlisberger insists he has no problem with the Pittsburgh Steelers drafting Mason Rudolph.
That his comments during a radio appearance shortly after the Steelers took the former Oklahoma State star in the third round of the draft – when Roethlisberger openly wondered why the team drafted a quarterback when he plans to be around a good while longer – were made in jest.
“I think people took some things into a context that I was going to be mean or rude,” Roethlisberger said on Tuesday as the AFC North champions began organized team activities. “That was not it at all.”
As if to prove a point, Roethlisberger went out of his way to praise Rudolph when the two shared a field together.
They didn’t exactly bro-hug or trade jokes, but the 36-year-old Roethlisberger did what he says he’s done throughout his 14-year career. A suggestion here. A comment there.
During one drill, Roethlisberger even found himself playing the de facto center as he whipped the ball underhand to the 22-year-old who may – or may not – being Roethlisberger’s eventual replacement.
“I have never been the type to be rude or mean to other quarterbacks,” Roethlisberger said.
“I’ve had a lot of quarterbacks through here that have been younger than me that I’ve tried to help any way that I can. I’ll continue to do that.”
The Steelers raised some eyebrows when they traded up to select Rudolph with the 76th overall pick in the draft, the highest the organization has taken a quarterback since making Roethlisberger the 11th overall selection in 2004.
Pittsburgh general manager Kevin Colbert said in the aftermath the Steelers had Rudolph rated equally with the first quarterbacks chosen in the first round, but declined to get into specifics about whether the team views Rudolph as Roethlisberger’s eventual replacement.
Roethlisberger expressed surprise during a radio appearance earlier this month, rhetorically asking why Pittsburgh used a third-round pick on a quarterback when there were players at other positions who could make a more immediate impact.
Roethlisberger stressed that wasn’t a slight at Rudolph and he is more than happy to help Rudolph get comfortable. When Rudolph threw high and hard to fullback Roosevelt Nix, Roethlisberger offered a bit of advice.
“I pulled him aside and said ‘You’ll learn quickly every throw doesn’t have to be the hardest throw you can make,’” Roethlisberger said.
“You don’t have to put every throw on guy’s chests as hard as you can. That’s a great opportunity for a nice easy touch pass. Just trying to instill things like that.”
Rudolph has been deferential from the minute he became a Steeler, stressing it was his job to learn how to play in the NFL and not Roethlisberger’s job to teach him.
Roethlisberger didn’t hesitate when asked if there’s anything that stood out about Rudolph during their initial workout.
“He has a big arm,” Roethlisberger said. “Seems to understand the offense. Seems to not have any issues in the huddle. So I thought he did really well.”
Any potential “controversy” – be it real or imagined – remains far off at best. Rudolph is in the mix of a three-man race to be Roethlisberger’s primary backup. Landry Jones has held the job for each of the past three seasons, with 2017 fourth-round pick Josh Dobbs serving as the third stringer last fall.
The Steelers will only carry three quarterbacks out of camp. Given the lengths the Steelers went to draft him, Rudolph figures to be a lock for one of the two spots behind Roethlisberger, with the emphasis on “behind.”
For how long remains the central question. Roethlisberger took two months during the 2017 offseason before deciding to return.
He announced his intention to be back in 2018 in a quiet locker room after the Steelers were upset by Jacksonville in the divisional round.
Asked what made him flip from saying he was year to year to hinting he could play beyond the contract that expires in the spring of 2020 and Roethlisberger remained somewhat vague.
He likes the offensive line in front of him – all of whom are signed through this season – and the skill-position talent that surrounds him in the huddle.
Oh, and Randy Fichtner has taken over as offensive coordinator after Todd Haley’s deal wasn’t renewed in January.
Pressed on specifics and Roethlisberger offered little while also somewhat contradicting himself in the process.
“Take it one year at a time and just feeling what you have left in the tank,” he said.
Which – for now – appears to be quite a bit.
Notes: For the second straight spring, All-Pro RB Le’Veon Bell was not in attendance as OTAs began. Bell has yet to sign his one-year, $14.1 million franchise tender. … Injured LB Ryan Shazier (spinal surgery) watched practice from a golf cart.