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Tomlin: 'Mason's the backup'

At his season-ending news conference today at the UPMC Rooney Sports Complex, Coach Mike Tomlin was asked a lot of questions pertaining to 2020. Questions about free agency, needs in the draft, what his staff of assistants might look like when the Steelers convene at Saint Vincent College in July for the start of their next training camp.

About most of those subjects, Tomlin deferred the question to a later time, because he explained that he was still in the process of looking back on the 2019 season as he begins exit interviews with all of the players on the team's roster.

But there was one question about 2020 that Tomlin addressed, and in addressing it he responded with a definitive answer.

Question: Mike, did you see enough of Mason Rudolph to be comfortable with him coming back as Ben's backup, or might you look at a more experienced backup quarterback?

"I'm comfortable with Mason Rudolph," said Tomlin. "I'm disappointed that he missed the amount of time that he did. Injuries are a part of the game. He had an opportunity there to grow and grow in a lot of ways and get a lot of experience. He missed some time due to injury and performance and so forth, but I am comfortable with Mason Rudolph."

When Ben Roethlisberger left the Steelers' second game of the regular season, which was against Seattle at Heinz Field, Rudolph came on and finished the game by completing 12-of-19 (63.2 percent) for 112 yards, with two touchdowns, one interception, and a rating of 94.2. Leading, 10-7, when Roethlisberger left the game, the Steelers ended up losing, 28-26.

Rudolph started eight of the next nine games, with the one he missed – on Oct. 13 against the Chargers in Los Angeles – coming as a result of being concussed by a helmet-to-helmet hit from Ravens safety Earl Thomas in a game the previous week.

In those eight starts, during which the Steelers were 5-3, Rudolph completed 150-of-244 (62 percent) for 1,524 yards, with 10 touchdowns, eight interceptions, and a rating of 79.3. His only other action of the season came in relief of Devlin Hodges during a Week 16 game against the New York Jets. After Hodges threw two first half interceptions as the Jets built a 10-0 lead, Tomlin turned to Rudolph, who brought the Steelers to a 10-10 halftime tie and ended up completing 14-of-20 (70 percent) for 129 yards, with one touchdown, no interceptions, and a rating of 104.0.

But Rudolph sustained an injury to his left shoulder before the end of the third quarter and was forced out of a game the Steelers ended up losing, 16-10. For the season, Rudolph completed 176-of-283 (62.2 percent) for 1,765 yards, with 13 touchdowns, nine interceptions, and a rating of 82.0.

While there was some confusion among fans and some faction of the media about the Steelers' commitment to Rudolph when it came to continuing in 2020 the role he filled in 2019, there evidently was no confusion in Tomlin's mind because if his answer to the one question about the quarterback pecking order wasn't sufficiently definitive, then his answers to the follow-ups were.

Question: Are you comfortable with Devlin Hodges?

"In what capacity?" responded Tomlin.

Question: The same one (as Rudolph)?

"Mason's the backup," said Tomlin.

Tomlin then was asked that since the Steelers believe in keeping three quarterbacks on the initial 53-man roster, might he be inclined to look for a veteran to serve as the No. 3 quarterback next year?

"I don't even know what the potential market is as I stand here, to be quite honest with you," said Tomlin. "We're in a self-analysis, and some of the questions you guys are asking are outside of us, and I'm just not ready to weigh those options. We're open to any and all options that are going to allow us to put the strongest football team that we can on the field, but to stand before you and act like I have an understanding of the depth of the veteran quarterback market would be an untruth."

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