The way the 2018 season played out for Mason Rudolph was pretty much the way he envisioned it would. Rudolph, the team's third round pick in the 2018 NFL Draft, didn't see any playing time, spending the year as the No. 3 quarterback behind Ben Roethlisberger and Joshua Dobbs.
"I knew I wasn't going to start," said Rudolph. "I knew I would be able to help Ben, the staff, the offense as much as I could. The first couple of games you are like wow, this is NFL football. In the middle of season you start to understand it, the flow, the preparation, the travel, and just the way we operate as an organization. The last five to six weeks I felt like I could play now if I had to.
"It's becoming comfortable with your new teammates, surroundings, new town. I started to feel that sink in around me the last six weeks of the season."
The mainstay of the work Rudolph received last season came in the preseason, where he completed 24 of 44 passes for 315 yards, three touchdowns and an interception. It was a start for him, and the beginning of the learning process.
"I was able to understand more and more with the help of the staff," said Rudolph. "It started to click as the season went on. You saw what we were going to run, you saw what we installed during camp, what we ran during OTAs. Then when it becomes time, you saw what are the concepts we are going to be comfortable with running on the field are.
"That was a cool dynamic to see. What Ben calls in the huddle, what are his choices and his favorite calls. I was like a huge sponge every week trying to take notes on each opponent, keep the notes. Coach (Mike) Tomlin recommended that to be able to go back and refer to those notes and refresh your memory a little bit."
The source for him to use those notes, to put to work what he was picking up on a daily basis, was in practice, when he would get opportunities to get extra reps.
"That was my Super Bowl for the week," said Rudolph. "That kept me motivated. Go out there against the starting defense and throw routes, be around the guys, be involved. That was fun. It's what I looked forward to. The days I wasn't getting reps I manufactured ways to stay sharp, to stay fresh mentally and physically. That is just a part of the process."
It was a process that wasn't the easiest for him, though. Rudolph is a competitor. He has a drive, a passion for the game that is clearly visible. You can hear it when he talks, see it every time he takes the field. So not playing, it wasn't easy.
"I wanted to play. I am a competitive guy," said Rudolph. "It was a rough year not playing for sure. You prepare yourself for it mentally when you are drafted to a team like this with a Hall of Fame quarterback. I am here eager to learn, ready to pick up what I can from Ben and our offense. Not just get thrust into the fire, which I think I could have held, withstood. I couldn't be happier to play for the Pittsburgh Steelers and spend the season in the lab learning. Working with the strength staff, working with Coach Randy (Fichtner), getting the reps I got on the field and maximizing those. Whatever throws I could get in, I looked forward to."
That was the key. Not getting down. Not getting discouraged. Instead taking advantage of the time to learn and grow from it.
"You wish you were waking up on a Monday morning sore the way I did the last eight years of my life," said Rudolph. "It was a change, but I think I will be better for it down the road. It was a year I could focus on helping our team, being a guy behind the scenes, trying to raise my football IQ. I met with Coach Tomlin once a week to find out his keys to the game and his insight onto what we need to attack on their defense. That really helped. All of the knowledge on our staff helped.
"I made the best of it and I think I came out as a better player."