On Tuesday, Coach Mike Tomlin talked about something he hasn't had to do in his 15 seasons as the Steelers coach.
He talked about having to find a franchise quarterback.
Tomlin said he is working under the assumption that Ben Roethlisberger won't be back in 2022, something the quarterback has indicated but hasn't fully said yet.
"I'm excited about that challenge. Those of us who are competitors are," said Tomlin. "It's a challenge. It makes you uneasy. But I've learned to run to those challenges. I've learned to appreciate those challenges."
That challenge will begin, but certainly not end, with two quarterbacks who are currently on the team's roster – Mason Rudolph and Dwayne Haskins.
Rudolph has played in 17 games, starting 10, in his four seasons as Roethlisberger's backup. He has 236 completions for 2,366 yards and 16 touchdowns. And he has the confidence that he can be QB1 when the 2022 season kicks off.
"It's a great feeling," said Rudolph. "All I want is a chance to compete and be the guy here. That seems like it's more of a possibility now than ever. It's very exciting and I am looking forward to the opportunity.
"I am a competitive person and I have a lot of confidence in myself. I think I can be the guy next year and that's my plan. I want to be the guy. My goal is to look forward to when we come back here and control what I can control. I know that I am going to compete.
"It's all I want. It's all I ever wanted to be, a starting NFL quarterback. I think I can do it. I think I have what it takes. I think I am ready to get the opportunity again to prove myself. I understand what I put on tape up until this point there are still question marks on my game. I want to prove those people wrong. I want to prove myself to my teammates and the guys I really care about. It's one day at a time. I am excited.
"It is encouraging to know I have as good a chance as any this year as opposed to the last four years when I had zero chance. That's going to motivate me to put my best foot forward."
Haskins has just as much confidence, even though he hasn't taken a regular season snap yet for the Steelers. Haskins played two seasons with the Washington Football team after being selected in the first-round of the 2019 NFL Draft, starting 13 of 16 games, while completing 267 passes for 2,804 yards and 12 touchdowns.
Haskins said he spoke to General Manager Kevin Colbert, who told him they are, 'Giving me a chance to compete and I have a chance to start.' He said that's all he can ask for.
"I feel like I can be a starter in this league. I got drafted for that reason," said Haskins. "I definitely believe I have the talent to. I just haven't put it all together yet. And that's something I have to do this offseason to put myself in position to play."
Haskins, who spoke before having his season ending exit interview with Tomlin, said he would share that same type of message with his coach about why he should be given the opportunity and why he believes he can do the job.
"I've wanted to be a quarterback my entire life," said Haskins. "Being a quarterback for the Pittsburgh Steelers is a dream. I remember watching Ben Roethlisberger when I was a young kid in 2004 and watching him play. I always had great respect for the black and gold. Great respect for Coach Tomlin, 15 seasons with no losing season. I want to show him that I want this bad. I want to be a leader. I want to be a guy that people can rely on, on and off the field to be more than just a guy that can throw a ball, talented enough to be in a position where I can execute at a high level and keep the Steelers way."
Rudolph started in the Steelers Week 10 tie against the Detroit Lions when Roethlisberger was out on the Reserve/COVID-19 List, and he completed 30 of 50 passes for 242 yards, a touchdown and an interception. He also had one start in 2020, but the mainstay of his playing time came in 2019 when Roethlisberger missed the year with a should injury. He had an up and down season, even losing the starting job before regaining it.
"The game experience that I have had, I think I've developed from 2019 when I had that stint of games," said Rudolph. "Any time you don't seize the opportunity fully there's going to be question marks. I think playing in games, experience is the best teacher. Being the backup quarterback, there is value in that. You can treat it like each game is an opportunity to take mental notes, being in those conversations, along with the practice reps and the general football IQ that you gain and add to your repertoire. I look at that as a positive. That's how I kept myself encouraged, you are getting to get a shot to play again at some point and you don't want to look back and have wasted this time. You want to take strides and make yourself a better quarterback.
"I am not going to be anybody that I am not. Being a backup quarterback challenged me and made me treat the mental side of football with more reverence. I am going to be myself. If you talk to my teammates, they know who I am. They know I am a leader. I am excited to take that next step."
For a player with Haskins' pedigree and background, the 2021 season was definitely a different one for him. And what he did with the season, was nothing short of impressive. He used it to his full advantage, as a learning tool that can no doubt benefit him moving forward.
"I feel like I learned a lot from not playing this year," said Haskins. "Coach T, a lot of guys just wanted me to just have an opportunity to sit back and learn. I never really had a chance to get to learn the NFL game the way that it should be done and the way the Steelers want it done. They gave me an opportunity to understand the Steelers way of how they want their quarterbacks to operate. That was a great learning experience to be able to move forward this year and try to embody what it is to be a guy like Ben, take over a great franchise the way that he did.
"Anytime you get an opportunity to sit back and learn, you get to see what to do and what not to do. And I feel like I had a great chance this year to see what it's like to be a leader. A guy like Ben, a Hall of Fame quarterback, guys have a lot of respect for him. Especially when we play other teams. Players on the opposing team showing a lot of gratitude and respect. I think that the best thing for me was being able to see it in practice every day. Some days, on Wednesdays, Ben would have a vet day. I was able to go with the ones, able to go against the first team defense, and it was a good experience as far as still being able to progress and get better. So, I got better this year even if I didn't get a chance to play."
Rudolph and Haskins maintain a good working relationship, but it's going to become a much more competitive relationship this offseason. Both players talked about not wanting to 'step on the toes' of a Hall of Fame quarterback in Roethlisberger, but they both are going into this offseason with the same mindset – competing for the job of QB1 with whoever else is brought in to join the competition.
"When you have a guy like Ben you don't want to step on his toes," said Haskins. "He's a great leader. He's someone that does his own thing in a way that you have to kind of find your way to fall into it. If he's not going to be here this offseason, there has to be somebody that steps up to be that leader, have that role on the offense. As a quarterback you're put into a leader role. It all determines how much respect you have from your teammates, getting the best out of them. I feel like being able to do it in OTAs, having different phases of the offseason, preparing to get ready for the season I can showcase my ability to work hard, to lead and to be an example."