Steelers 2020 Training Camp Preview: Quarterback

With a future Hall of Famer sitting atop a handful of competitive backup options, training camp becomes an essential part of the offseason. How will the Steelers' quarterbacks look in 2020?

The Pittsburgh Steelers’ 2020 quarterbacks room returns the superstar and future Hall of Famer, Ben Roethlisberger. For the Steelers as a team, that is the paramount addition on the field in 2020. However, the 2019 quarterbacks are back as well after a rocky season at best. Every single quarterback on the team has starting experience at one point or another, which may give them a unique advantage going into a season where there are more questions than answers across the board. Along with Roethlisberger’s return, there are a host of question marks behind him, including a battle for the third quarterback slot. How will the room look in Week 1?

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The Steelers’ roster locks at quarterback

Ben Roethlisberger

Roethlisberger is going to have all eyes on him throughout the training camp process as he returns from three torn tendons in his throwing elbow. With an unprecedented injury for a quarterback, the recovery process is a big unknown at this point, but up to this point, all signs are positive. Mike Tomlin seems comfortable with where Roethlisberger is at, and Diontae Johnson said that Roethlisberger “threw it harder than he ever did last year.”

Related | How will Ben Roethlisberger play when he returns from his injury

If Roethlisberger can return to form, he will also need to keep down his interception numbers, having thrown 16 in 2018. The Steelers are a pass-first offense, so those numbers will always be a little high given the volume they pass, but in general, that is a decision-making issue that must be addressed. Still, he led the league in passing yards and completed tight-window throws in 2018. Therefore, Roethlisberger’s return means big things for the Steelers and opens up an offense with newly found weapons to be a potential Top-10 unit if all works out.

Mason Rudolph

In the Steelers 2020 quarterbacks room, Rudolph is the “prove-it” guy. The Steelers have shown a strong faith in Rudolph that may not be warranted based on the miserable stretches of play in 2019. Still, the Steelers did not draft or sign a quarterback this offseason and have spoken glowingly of Rudolph in press conferences. It is widely known they had a first-round grade on Rudolph coming out of Oklahoma State. 2020 will be the year where Rudolph will need to prove the faith is warranted.

Last season, Rudolph’s sloppy mechanics, specifically his inconsistent base, nonexistent torque, and awkward footwork, were all catalysts to a severe accuracy problem. Rudolph had a true completion percentage of only 67.7%. He also fought a nasty pocket management problem. Rudolph does not move in the pocket and, at times, is indicative of a statue. With a lack of ability to extend the play, defenses shut the door on the Steelers. Even more troubling was slow processing and odd decision-making from Rudolph.

In other words, there is a lot of work to be done here for Rudolph, and fans rightfully may feel wary of the Steelers backup quarterback situation. Rudolph’s game against the Jets, before his injury, was promising, and there were stretches where he looked comfortable and played with confidence. That will need to be the norm in practice in 2020 and if he steps onto the field.

The QB3 Battle

Devlin Hodges

Hodges, nicknamed Duck, is looking to secure a roster spot a year after being an undrafted free agent out of Samford and having been thrust into action early into his young career. It was not all bad for the young signal-caller. The highs of his game tape were impressive. Hodges showcased quick mental reads, anticipation, proper ball placement, and an ability to play outside of the pocket.

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Still, it all came crashing down during the final three weeks of the season. Hodges proved to lack poise and rushed decisions when under pressure. Even worse, he slid into pressure when he had a clean pocket to work with. The more defenses got on him, the more he struggled to read defenses as well. It was a disaster stretch, but the flashes of upside cannot be thrown to the wayside only due to that stretch of bad games.

Paxton Lynch

The former Denver Broncos first-round pick comes into the Steelers 2020 quarterbacks competition with a lot of support behind him. Everyone in the organization seems to be somewhat intrigued by the toolsy Lynch. Known for a strong arm and impressive athleticism, Lynch brings more physical upside to the position than Hodges; there is no question about that.

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However, Lynch’s time in Denver was a disaster, as never got used to the speed of the NFL game. Lynch was a disaster at managing the pocket, feeling opposing pressure, and reading defenses. His decison-making and lack of dependable accuracy were two other key attributes that forced the Broncos to cut their ties with Lynch so early into his career. The stretch there was awful, but he will look to find more success in Pittsburgh.

Who will win the job?

This is not an easy decision by any means. The Steelers have more experience with Hodges, but they are high on Lynch. With no preseason games to boot, this situation is about as messy as it can get. The loser likely gets kept on the practice squad regardless. Therefore, it seems that all four of these quarterbacks will remain within the organization in 2020.

Ultimately, I will lean towards Hodges here, even if it is a very close and complicated race. For an undrafted rookie free agent, he had the flashes that he could grow into being a competent backup quarterback in the NFL. Lynch has not had that just yet, even though he has physical upside. Hodges, however, can win this battle with consistency and improvement in his mental game. If that can happen, he can lock down this job.

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