- Previously covered the Kansas City Chiefs for the Kansas City Star and Oklahoma University for the Oklahoman.
PITTSBURGH — With the Steelers’ starting quarterback plans still up in the air, wide receiver Diontae Johnson voiced his support for backup Mason Rudolph.
“Yeah, I want to see him play,” Johnson said Thursday when asked if he’d like to see Rudolph “get a shot.”
“I know he’s ready to play. I know it’s probably in the back of his mind like, ‘Dang, when I’m going get my chance?’ I feel like this week is it for him. I know he’s going to do everything it takes to be prepared this week, get ready for Sunday.”
With free agency acquisition Mitch Trubisky as the primary backup to rookie Kenny Pickett since Pickett took over the starting job in Week 4, Rudolph has been inactive every week this season. But Pickett’s status for Sunday is in doubt after the quarterback sustained his second concussion in eight weeks early in the Week 14 loss to the Baltimore Ravens.
Trubisky replaced Pickett, and while he gave the team a spark with chunk plays on big throws to players like wide receiver George Pickens, he also threw three costly interceptions.
“Whoever’s at quarterback, they have got to be prepared as well,” said Johnson, who earlier this season acknowledged a dust-up with Trubisky at halftime of the Week 4 loss to the New York Jets. Pickett started the second half of that game.
“They’ve got to be on their stuff just like me. I’ll make sure I talk to [Pickett] to see if he’s cool or whatnot. But no matter who it is, I’m, I’m going to be ready. Don’t matter who’s throwing the balls, as long as you’re making the play on the ball that end of the day.”
Mike Tomlin said in his Tuesday news conference that if Pickett can’t practice while in the concussion protocol, Trubisky and Rudolph would split first-team reps during the week. Wednesday, that’s exactly what happened.
“It was good to get some reps again,” Rudolph said Wednesday, “and shake the rust off and be out there with the guys. It was fun.”
Offensive coordinator Matt Canada said it wasn’t “abnormal” to prepare two quarterbacks in case the starter can’t go — especially because Rudolph’s reps with the first-team offense have been limited since training camp.
“We’ve had two guys getting a lot of reps,” Canada said. “Mason hasn’t gotten reps, so I think we certainly don’t want to have happen what happened on Sunday, where on the fifth play of the game, our quarterback got banged out. I think it would be a disservice to everybody to sit there and have Mason come in and play and not have had any reps. As we proceed forward, I think it’s our job to make sure he’s ready to play.”
Rudolph last saw game action when he started in Week 10 last season against the Detroit Lions when Ben Roethlisberger went on the COVID-19 list the day before the game. The Steelers tied the Lions, and Rudolph completed 30 of 50 attempts for 242 yards, one touchdown and one interception.
Johnson, who hasn’t had a touchdown catch this season, and Rudolph developed a connection during Johnson’s 2019 rookie season when Rudolph started eight games after Roethlisberger’s season-ending elbow injury in Week 2. Rudolph finished that roller-coaster season with 13 touchdown passes to 9 interceptions.
“He’s been doing a great job just staying solid through everything and continuing to get better every day,” Johnson said. “You see at practice, he’s locked in, he’s making those throws, continuously showing that he knows what he’s doing, making the right throws here and there, getting everybody lined up right. I like that.”
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