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Tribune News Service
Tribune News Service
Gerry Dulac

Gerry Dulac: Steelers splitting snaps between Mitch Trubisky, Mason Rudolph might send wrong message

PITTSBURGH — The idea to rotate first-team practice reps between Mitch Trubisky and Mason Rudolph would appear to make practical sense, at least according to the way offensive coordinator Matt Canada explained it.

But it also has some potentially negative consequences that could pivot the offense back to what we saw earlier this season.

Because of the injury to Kenny Pickett, who is in concussion protocol, Canada said the Steelers wanted to get Rudolph as much work as possible in the event something happened to Trubisky against the Carolina Panthers — should Trubisky be the quarterback and not Pickett.

Rudolph, of course, has been inactive for every game and has not taken any practice snaps with the first- or second-team offense this season.

"I think we certainly don't want to have happen what happened on Sunday — on the fifth play of the game, our quarterback got banged out," Canada said. "I think it would be a disservice to everybody to sit there and have Mason come in and play not having had any reps."

The move, however, could appear to show a lack of confidence in Trubisky after he threw three interceptions in Sunday's 16-14 loss to the Baltimore Ravens.

Granted, it's important to get Rudolph some work in practice to get him accustomed to playing with someone other than third-team or practice-squad players. But sharing snaps with the starter — if Trubisky is the starter?

It might send the wrong message.

The best thing Trubisky has done since he was benched at halftime in a Week 4 game against the New York Jets is come off the bench against Tampa Bay and the Ravens and each time play the position as well or better than at any point this season.

And the reason he played so well is because he did what he didn't do in the first part of the season — he played loose. He played unencumbered. He played like he wasn't looking over his shoulder, like he wasn't worried about making a mistake or giving Mike Tomlin a reason to go to his No. 1 draft choice, the player whose name the entire city had been feverishly chanting since the first day of training camp.

Even though he threw three interceptions against the Ravens, Trubisky moved the offense into scoring position on six occasions. Two were for touchdowns. Another resulted in a blocked field goal that would have decided the game. He attacked down the field, and, yes, he even attacked over the middle — the same area of the field every social media critic claimed was being grossly ignored. He passed for 276 yards and averaged 9.2 yards per attempt, highest of the season.

Point is: The very freedom with which Trubisky has been playing might now be compromised by the curious decision to share practice snaps with a quarterback who has been inactive all season. OK, maybe it is harmless. Maybe it means nothing more than what Canada said it is.

Nonetheless, the appearance of another quarterback waiting in the wings is being dangled over Trubisky's neck like the sword of Damocles. And that might not be a good thing.

Roughing under review

Despite what some think is an overzealous attempt to protect the quarterback, penalties for roughing the passer are actually down this season, falling from 121 at this point a year ago to 76 with four weeks remaining.

That includes several that shouldn't have been called, including the penalty against Miami's Jaelan Phillips for his hit on Chargers quarterback Justin Herbert on Sunday night — a call the NFL acknowledged was wrong.

Because of that and other flags thrown for debatable hits on quarterbacks this season — New Orleans' Grady Jarrett on Tom Brady, Kansas City's Chris Jones on Derek Carr — the NFL began discussions at the recent owners meeting to decide if those penalties should be reviewable by replay.

The league will present the possibility to the competition committee, which will decide if a proposal should be presented to the owners at the annual meetings in March. Mike Tomlin is a member of the competition committee.

However, there might not be a lot of support for such a proposal.

For starters, league owners are very much concerned about the length of games and have taken several steps over the years to make sure the pace doesn't get bogged down.

That's what happened in 2019 when the owners adopted a proposal that allowed pass-interference calls to be reviewable. But the rule was scrapped after one year because of the incessant amount of delays and interruptions to the game.

That rule was proposed and passed based solely because of one much-publicized incident — the non-pass interference call in the NFC playoff game between the Los Angeles Rams and New Orleans Saints. This possible proposal isn't much different. It is being suggested because of several isolated incidents, not some wide-spread injustice.

Expect the owners to throw the yellow flag at that idea.

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