Mason Rudolph is the backup quarterback. What had seemed obvious to anyone and everyone who watched the Steelers work at training camp or through the four games of the preseason has been confirmed by the team’s inaugural depth chart of the 2019 NFL regular season.
But if that depth chart is to be taken at face value, nothing else has changed for the Steelers since they reported to Saint Vincent College on July 25.
The Steelers released their depth chart today in advance of their regular season opener on Sept. 8 in New England, and the list of 11 starters on offense, 12 on defense (including a nickel back), and six on special teams (three specialists, a holder, and one primary punt returner and kickoff returner) is exactly the same as the list the team put out before its preseason opener.
Understanding that the starters on offense can be altered by the personnel grouping dictated by the first play-call of the game, and that the defensive starters will depend upon the required response to the offensive personnel grouping the opponent chooses to open the game, this depth chart reflects the stability and good health the Steelers have enjoyed throughout the summer.
There could be some surprise associated with Vince Williams listed as the starter at right inside linebacker over rookie Devin Bush, but that might not even hold for the opener based on how the Patriots choose to attack the Steelers to start the game on Sunday night.
What might be more revealing than a depth chart will be Coach Mike Tomlin’s decision on which players will be inactive vs. the Patriots. As one example, there typically will be seven offensive linemen in uniform on game day – the five starters, plus a swing tackle and one interior backup. The depth chart lists both Chuks Okorafor and Zach Banner as backups at tackle, but the one who gets a helmet on Sunday is higher in the pecking order.
Another area not reflected by a depth chart is wide receiver when the offense goes to a multiple-receiver formation. Might it be Ryan Switzer or James Washington who joins the huddle in a three-wide-receiver formation? And will that be consistent, or will the personnel grouping change based on circumstances such as down-and-distance? When it’s four wide receivers, does that mean it’s both Switzer and Washington on the field, or does rookie Diontae Johnson replace one of them?
In many ways, a depth chart at the start of the preseason is more significant because it establishes a pecking order when there are 90 players on the roster. But once teams have made their cuts and enter a regular season with 53 players on the roster, the significance switches to the inactive list on game days.