Steelers WR wants Rudolph to start if Pickett drops out

PITTSBURGH — With the Steelers’ starting quarterback plans still unclear, wide receiver Diontae Johnson voiced his support for backup Mason Rudolph.

“Yeah, I’d love to see him play,” Johnson said Thursday when asked if he’d like to see Rudolph “try out.”

“I know he’s ready to play. I know it’s probably in his mind like, ‘Dang, when will I get my chance?’ I feel this week is for him. I know he will do everything necessary to prepare for this week, be ready for Sunday.”

With the acquisition of free agent Mitch Trubisky as the main backup for rookie Kenny Pickett since Pickett took over the starting job in Week 4, Rudolph has been inactive every week this season. But Pickett’s status for Sunday was in doubt after the quarterback suffered his second concussion in eight weeks early in his Week 14 loss to the Baltimore Ravens.

Trubisky replaced Pickett, and while he gave the team a splash with chop play on big pitches to players like wide receiver George Pickens, he also threw three costly interceptions.

“Anyone who’s at quarterback, they need to be prepared too,” said Johnson, who earlier this season admitted fault with Trubisky in the halftime of their Week 4 loss to the New York Jets. Pickett started the second half of that game.

“They have to do their thing like me. I’ll make sure I talk to them [Pickett] to see if he’s cool or something. But no matter who it is, I, I will be ready. It doesn’t matter who throws the ball, as long as you play the ball at the end of the day.”

Mike Tomlin said in a press conference Tuesday that if Pickett is unable to train while in concussion protocol, Trubisky and Rudolph will split first-team reps for the week. Wednesday, that’s what happened.

“It was great getting a few more reps,” Rudolph said Wednesday, “and getting rid of the rust and being out there with the guys. It was fun.”

Offensive coordinator Matt Canada said it was not “abnormal” to prepare two quarterbacks if the starter couldn’t go – especially since Rudolph’s representation of first-team offense has been limited since training camp.

“We have two people who get a lot of rep,” said Canada. “Mason hasn’t had representation yet, so I think we certainly don’t want to happen what happened Sunday, where in play five of the game, our quarterback got shot. I think it would hurt everybody to sit there and have Mason come in and play and have no representation. As we go forward, I think our job is to make sure he is ready to play.”

Rudolph last saw game action when he started in Week 10 of last season against the Detroit Lions when Ben Roethlisberger was placed on the COVID-19 list the day before the game. The Steelers tied the Lions, and Rudolph completed 30 of 50 attempts for 242 yards, one touchdown and one interception.

Johnson, who has yet to catch a touchdown this season, and Rudolph developed a connection during Johnson’s 2019 rookie season when Rudolph started eight games after hurting Roethlisberger’s season-ending elbow in Week 2. Rudolph finished that roller-coaster season with 13 touchdown passes to 9 interceptions.

“He has done a great job staying solid in every way and getting better every day,” said Johnson. “You see in practice, he locks up, he makes those throws, keeps showing he knows what he’s doing, makes the right throws here and there, gets everybody lined up right. I love that.”

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