Voices of experience

The assessing all that happened and what it means has only just begun, but Mason Rudolph and Devlin "Duck" Hodges can move forward into the offseason certain of at least one absolute:

Neither had played quarterback in the NFL prior to the just-completed 2019 season, and now they have.

"There was a lot of learning moments, finally got a chance to play against high-level competition week in and week out," Rudolph observed yesterday, the day after the Steelers' season ended with a 28-10 loss to the Ravens in Baltimore. "There's no substitute for experience. Obviously, I didn't play as well as I wanted to at times. But I think there were also some things I did well and some things I look back on and kinda hang my hat on.

"You got to play, man, in the NFL, and win some games and have some adversity, as well, and overcome it like I always have and like I'll continue to."

Added Hodges: "The more you play, the more you get to learn and the more progress you probably make. Even though I didn't play my best the last couple games, I still feel like I learned a lot and I still feel like I got better.

"I know I won some games, proved I can play here. Just gotta work on some things, come back next year and still do what I do, and that's compete every day and enjoy football."

The anticipation, as stated by players in the locker room at M&T Bank Stadium, is that Ben Roethlisberger will return healthy in 2020.

"You get, hopefully, Ben back next year, I don't want to fall on that but that's just the reality of it," guard Ramon Foster observed. "When you have a franchise, Super Bowl-winning, Hall-of-Fame quarterback, with the defense we have, if they can keep everybody intact, that's gonna be something really nice moving forward."

Roethlisberger was lost for the season to an elbow injury on Sept.15 against Seattle.

Rudolph, initially, and Hodges, eventually, both had opportunities to run the offense in Roethlisberger's absence.

Both won games, both threw four interceptions in a game and both were benched mid-game.

Rudolph finished 176-for-283 passing (62.2 percent), for 1,765 yards, with 13 touchdowns, nine interceptions and a passer rating of 82.0. He posted a 5-3 record as a starter.

Hodges went 100-for-160 passing (62.5 percent), for 1,063 yards, with five touchdowns, eight interceptions and a passer rating of 71.4. The Steelers went 3-3 in Hodges' six starts.

There isn't a number that reflects the perspective gleaned through the highs and lows by both.

"I've had some tough games in college before and come out the game after that and played well," Hodges said. "At the end of the day bad games are gonna happen. I think every quarterback in the history of the NFL has had multiple bad games. Just because you have a bad game doesn't mean you're a bad player.

"I cant worry about yesterday, I gotta move on from it and get better."

Rudolph was also forced from games twice due to injury, the second of which necessitated "the procedure" he underwent on his non-throwing shoulder and the six-to-eight week rehab he estimated he's facing.

"It was fun to get out there and be effective and just play football," he said. "You're looking at six quarters of probably sub-par play, I'm not too worried about that. I'm gonna go back and look at everything on the tape and try to correct mistakes, what can I get better at from year two to year three? How can I improve? That'll be a collective conversation between Coach Tomlin (head coach Mike), Coach Fichtner (offensive coordinator Randy) and myself and looking at yourself in the mirror.

"I have a lot to improve upon and that excites me because I know how much potential I have. I know the great player that I am and that I'm going to continue to mold myself to be."

Hodges said he didn't know what the Steelers were thinking in terms of their assessment of the position or whether another veteran quarterback would eventually be brought aboard.

"This is my first year, I don't have a clue how they do any of that," he said. "You have to talk to the G.M. (general manager) on that one."

Rudolph said he'll enter the offseason assuming nothing.

"No one ever solidifies any spot, you see that week to week around the league," he maintained. "The moment you think you've solidified something, that's when this game humbles you.

"I'm gonna compete like I have every single year of my life since I was in middle school. Nothing's set in stone, but I'm excited to come back and have the opportunity to play for the Pittsburgh Steelers in the spring and moving forward to next year."

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