In this edition of "5 Steelers to Watch" Joe Kuzma selects those players every fan should keep an eye on as Pittsburgh hits the road to take on the San Francisco 49ers.
All eyes will definitely be on the second-year quarterback, as he makes his first NFL start in the wake of Ben Roethlisberger being placed on IR with a season-ending surgery.
Is Rudolph the future? Can he manage to keep the Steelers 2019 season alive with a victory on the road?
A lot of questions will be answered in short time as the quarterback had this week to prepare to be “the guy” under center.
If there’s any player on the roster who may see an uptick in production with the move of Rudolph starting, it’s the quarterback’s old college teammate and former favorite target.
Washington should instantly bypass whatever timing/learning curve some quarterbacks need to get on the same page with their receivers.
Will Steelers offensive coordinator Randy Fichtner rely on Rudolph throwing the ball 40-50 times in this game? Or will the Steelers go back to a ground-based attack featuring Conner?
Conner had some knee pain this week and returned to full practice on Thursday. Even if Conner is limited in the game, his impact, along with Jaylen Samuels and Benny Snell, should be enough to help balance the expectations placed on Rudolph.
Watch for Conner to be heavily involved in the offense and rightfully so: he was last October’s AFC player of the month. If there’s anyone that can help shoulder the burden of a new QB, it’s definitely James Conner.
With 49ers left tackle Joe Staley out with a broken fibula, a rookie by the name of Justin Skule will fill in on Jimmy Garappolo’s blind side.
This means Bud Dupree will be matched up against the sixth-round pick out of Vanderbilt on Sunday, and should reasonably give Dupree opportunities to make plays.
Acquired this week from the Miami Dolphins, Fitzpatrick fills a glaring need in the Steelers secondary, especially with starting free safety Sean Davis being placed on IR with a shoulder injury.
Unlike Rudolph, Fitzpatrick didn’t have a full year in the Steelers system or any type of training camp/preseason with the team – obviously.
That means he has to be brought up to speed with terminology and playcalls immediately, but that doesn’t seem to phase head coach Mike Tomlin who said Fitzpatrick would be on the field Sunday.
Furthermore, Steelers safeties, and in particular their starters in the secondary, typically play the full game. Keep an eye out to monitor how Pittsburgh operates with Fitzpatrick in his first game, but also don’t be surprised if they go with the flow and have him on the field a majority of, if not the full time.