With his upcoming retirement imminent, Ben Roethlisberger pulled back the curtain Wednesday as it relates to talking about the future. Barring a Steelers win and a Jaguars win over the Colts, Sunday's road game against the Ravens will be the final game in an 18-year career for Roethlisberger, who on Monday night capped off his career at Heinz Field with an emotional win over the Cleveland Browns.
Roethlisberger said that he has already spoken to former teammates about the transition he is about to make. Roethlisberger expressed optimism in the future of Pittsburgh's offense, a unit that includes running back Najee Harris, tight end Pat Freiermuth and receivers Diontae Johnson and Chase Claypool. Roethlisberger was also asked about quarterback Mason Rudolph, who at this time would be the likely player to succeed Roethlisberger as Pittsburgh's next starting quarterback.
"He works really hard," Roethlisberger said of Rudolph, whose only start this season was Pittsburgh's Week 10 against the Lions. "He's smart, he understands what's going on. I think that it's just the repetition. ... I think this offseason, probably knowing that there's going to be a competition for it, I think that's going to be good for him.
"It's probably pretty hard to wrap your mind around what do I have to do to be a starter when there's an old, veteran guy ahead of you. So I think that that could do wonders for him this offseason."
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The 76th overall pick in the 2018 NFL Draft, Rudolph did not make his regular-season debut until Week 2 of the 2019 season when Roethlisberger sustained a season-ending elbow injury. In 10 games that season, Rudolph completed 62.2% of his passes with 13 touchdowns and nine interceptions and went 5-3 as a starter. Rudolph has appeared in just three games (with two starts) since the 2019 season. He threw for 315 yards with two touchdowns and an interception in Pittsburgh's loss in Cleveland in the final game of the 2020 regular season. Against the Lions, Rudolph was 30 of 50 for 242 yards with a touchdown and an interception.
Rudolph has been in position battles throughout his career. This past offseason, he beat out Dwayne Haskins to be Roethlisberger's primary backup. This summer, Rudolph will likely get the chance to make his case to be the Steelers' Week 1 starter. The only scenario where that may not happen would be in the event that the Steelers are able to acquire either Aaron Rodgers or Russell Wilson, assuming both players don't remain with their current clubs.
Steelers fans have at least one more game with Roethlisberger under center before Pittsburgh begins the process of finding its next starting quarterback. They are surely hoping that it won't take as long for the Steelers to find Roethlisberger's long-term successor as it did after Terry Bradshaw retired following the 1983 season. Among others, the Steelers had Mark Malone, Bubby Brister, Neil O'Donnell, Mike Tomczak, Kordell Stewart and Tommy Maddox under center before Roethlisberger took the reins in 2004.