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Mason Rudolph Passes First Professional Test in Big Ben Dustup

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I presume everyone has a default website. When you need to test and see if your internet is working or you’re looking at new devices at the Apple store, there’s a go-to URL you probably have. Mine, somewhat humorously, is not this one. It’s ESPN.com. I don’t know why, but it is and has been for a long time.

Anyway, I mindlessly entered it today as I checked to make sure a software update hadn’t wrecked my internet connection. While I was on ESPN.com for like 1.293 seconds, this headline caught my eye.

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Now of course I knew about the Big Ben-Mason Rudolph brouhaha. We covered it on this site. But sometimes it’s difficult to tell how something will pop nationally. We are so deep into the Oklahoma State galaxy that I sometimes can’t see the rest of the universe for what it is. So I wasn’t necessarily surprised that the inflammatory comments from Roethlisberger (and Rudolph’s subsequent reaction) were national news, but it did raise an eyebrow.

For the uninitiated, here’s a CliffsNotes version: Ben was #madonline (actually in the newspaper and on the radio) that Pittsburgh took a QB in the third round because he felt like a different position could have helped the team more (which is not incorrect). He said the Oklahoma State product was going to have to wait a while to play and then doubled down saying he’d point him to a playbook if Rudolph wanted help. Parts of it were so ridiculous they honestly felt like parody.

Rudolph responded by saying, essentially, I would have said and done the same thing if I was Ben. The Rudolph part may or may not true, but his words (probably) quelled the scuttlebutt.

Not that it’s not going to be awkward when the Steelers get together for mini camp this weekend! But Rudolph at least gave Roethlisberger a reprieve, an opportunity to, when he’s asked about it again this weekend (because he will be!), put the back and forth to death. That’s what rookies are supposed to do, let veterans end controversies rather than fanning the flame. I have no idea if Roethlisberger will oblige, but Rudolph at least teed him up.

Here’s the rub for me: Roethlisberger is right. They didn’t really need Rudolph in the near future. He’s not going to take Big Ben’s job this year or next. An extra defensive player or maybe a running back to spell Le’Veon Bell who can gain more than 144 yards would have been more beneficial, specifically to Ben and especially over the next 32 or so games. Landry Jones (this pains me to type) has been an adequate fill-in for Roethlisberger, and Rudolph might not even take his job as QB2.

But Pittsburgh’s front office is paid to think about not just 2018 and 2019 but 2020 (when Roethlisberger becomes a free agent) and beyond. I don’t think it’s a huge limb to go out on to say that Jones and Josh Dobbs are not your QBs of the future. Rudolph might not be either, but the value at pick No. 76 was so good and the Steelers entrenched enough that they could take the swing.

Was it silly for Roethlisberger to make a thing out of some absurdly innocuous comments from Rudolph after the draft? Yes, but I kind of liked this take about how Ben was just being Ben and it’s all part of what you get with a hall of famer (this one, anyway).

What would you rather have: a franchise quarterback talking about retirement or a franchise quarterback talking about how he may not like the new guy drafted at his position?

Roethlisberger doesn’t need any more fuel to keep him motivated. He certainly doesn’t need an understudy quarterback to kick him in the butt, either. What he needs is to keep being Big Ben.

These quotes–the ones filled with so much passive-aggressiveness, I really don’t know how his wife ever wins any arguments with him–are a good sign. If there’s a quarterback alive today who would play three to five more years just out of spite, it’s Ben Roethlisberger. [Behind the Steel Curtain]

Rudolph is savvy enough to play this game. That’s a good thing. A less experienced or mature player (maybe person) might have gone guns up and sounded off on how the Big Ben era has struck midnight and Rudolph is here to take over, or something inane like that. It could have turned into a mess.

But Rudolph handled it like a professional, which is both what he is and how he’s acted for the last four years. This sometimes came off as a little dry or disingenuous in college, but now that he actually is a professional in a situation that called for his particular media skillset, it worked out perfectly!

No. 2 knows he doesn’t work for No. 7 or anyone else who wears a helmet. Playing quarterback in the NFL is about, primarily, being great at playing quarterback, but it’s also about not being a distraction. It’s about swallowing your pride when you don’t want to and letting a Super Bowl champ start and end a media scuffle.

So while I think the Ben comments are kinda bizarre and that he took Rudolph’s posture way out of context, I don’t really blame him for the stance he took. As this article noted, Drew Bledsoe was once a pretty great QB, too, and Tom Brady was once a lesser pick than Rudolph. There is certainly a better way to handle all of this, but if Ben needs to motivate Ben by doing Ben Media Things, then whatever.

Rudolph got a pop quiz right out of the gate, and he aced it, like he always has. Questions about whether he can actually play quarterback effectively in this league remain (and will remain into the future), but there’s no doubt he can handle all the ancillary hoopla that goes along with being QB1 in the most scrutinized sports league in the country.

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