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Mason Rudolph Ready to Start for Pittsburgh Steelers Against Bengals

Mason Rudolph (Credits: NFL)

Searching for another spark this season, the Pittsburgh Steelers are turning to Mason Rudolph.

Rudolph, who is set to make his first start in nearly two seasons, said Tuesday he’s “battle-tested” and prepared for the opportunity to start against the Cincinnati Bengals.

“I think as the third-string quarterback, you feel like, ‘Are you really earning your paycheck week to week?'” Rudolph said with a laugh. “And so I get to finally earn it this week and put my hand in the pile and go fight for a victory together.”

Selected in the third round of the 2018 NFL draft, Rudolph started his first career game in Week 3 of the 2019 season after Ben Roethlisberger suffered a season-ending elbow injury. Rudolph went on to start eight games that season, but it was a tumultuous stretch.

Not only did Rudolph get benched for former practice squad quarterback Devlin “Duck” Hodges at halftime of a game in Cincinnati, he was at the center of a brawl a week earlier in Cleveland, where defensive end Myles Garrett tried to hit Rudolph in the head with his own helmet, sparking an on-field melee that resulted in fines and suspensions.

After a brief benching, Rudolph bounced back to replace Hodges against the New York Jets, but injured his shoulder in the loss and didn’t play in the season finale.

“We’ve all had adversity no matter if you’re in the media or you play football, but I think I’ve had a fair share, and I think it’s made me better, and it’s made me a better person,” Rudolph said. “And I think about some of the things that happened in ’19 — and it was quite a lot — but I’m grateful for that. I think it’s made me a better man and a better leader. And it makes you more battle-tested.”

The next year, Rudolph saw clean-up action in three games before starting a meaningless Week 17 game against Cleveland. Though the Steelers lost, Rudolph had his most complete performance, throwing for 315 yards with two touchdowns and one interception.

Since then, Rudolph has started only one game — a 2021 tie against the Detroit Lions when Roethlisberger went on the reserve/COVID-19 list. In that game, Rudolph completed 30 of 50 attempts for 242 yards with one touchdown and one interception. He also got garbage-time snaps in the Week 16 loss to the Kansas City Chiefs.

Mason Rudolph (Credits: NFL)

The next time Rudolph got on the field was last week against the Indianapolis Colts, when coach Mike Tomlin pulled Mitch Trubisky for Rudolph just before the two-minute warning.

“We didn’t do enough of anything well today,” Tomlin said of the decision to bench Trubisky.

Wide receiver Diontae Johnson, who was drafted a year after Rudolph, praised the quarterback for his resilience.

“He brings that grit that you’re looking for, that he’s not going to give up,” Johnson said. “He’s going to come in and do his job at 100 percent. I have full confidence in Mason that he’s going to come in and do his job and get everybody the ball. It is our job on the outside to just rally around him.”

Though he has started 10 games, Rudolph hasn’t had much experience with this group of offensive skill players because he’s largely been the scout team quarterback.

Though Tomlin didn’t officially name Rudolph the starter on Monday — and also left the “door ajar” for Kenny Pickett to return from the TightRope ankle surgery — Rudolph got first-team reps Tuesday for the first time in more than two years, while Pickett was a limited participant.

“I think I’ve stayed sharp to this point this season trying to get each and every throw I can and simulate throws in the game plan each week, run checks, etc.,” Rudolph said. “So yeah, I’m not going to try to make up for lost time. I’m focusing on each day and each rep and that’s all you can do.”

Even after waiting more than two full years between starts, Rudolph doesn’t anticipate being reckless with a nothing-to-lose approach — even as his head coach said the primary reason for making the move from Trubisky to Rudolph was to score more.

“I think you want to obviously move the chains and score points, but let’s not be foolish with the football and let’s find the open guy,” Rudolph said. “Take what the defense gives you, check the ball down when you need to and don’t try to be the hero. And I think when you think like that, you don’t put too much pressure on yourself and you end up playing smooth and getting into a rhythm.

“I’m not going to be hucking it as far as I can on the first play. It’s going to be you take shots when the defense allows and each play take one play at a time.”

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