PITTSBURGH -- As guard Ramon Foster walked out of the locker room after a second-straight loss for the Pittsburgh Steelers, he was asked about quarterback Mason Rudolph taking over the offense if Ben Roethlisberger's elbow injury keeps him sidelined.
His answer was blunt: Rudolph prepares like a mad man.
"He wants this," Foster added.
On Monday, Steelers coach Mike Tomlin announced that Roethlisberger will have surgery on his elbow and be out the remainder of the season.
The Steelers are sold on Rudolph for one prime reason: He grinds. They aren't worried about his preparation if he makes the start Sunday at San Francisco, which is crucial to avoid dropping to 0-3 and dwelling at the bottom of the AFC North.
No matter the results, they know he'll be ready for everything on the field. This is the same guy who wears his helmet on the sideline as the backup and used to mimic practice plays from the sideline as the third-stringer last season.
In Rudolph's NFL debut, he completed 12-of-19 passes for 112 yards, two touchdowns and one interception (not his fault coming off a Donte Moncrief drop) for a 92.5 passer rating. But guard David DeCastro cared less about the numbers and more about the command as Rudolph was mixing signals at the line of scrimmage.
"We like our chances," DeCastro said. "He’s a guy who cares a lot. That means a lot in this league."
Here's what to expect with Rudolph at the helm for the Steelers' offense.
Confidence to "let it fly," which is mostly good …
Rudolph said in the preseason in Year 2 he would hold nothing back, which eventually helped him beat Josh Dobbs for the No. 2 job. Rudolph delivered two touchdown strikes to Vance McDonald, who broke free for seven catches Sunday. Those were confidence throws.
Rudolph also isn't afraid to hold the ball in the pocket as routes develop or make intermediate-to-deep throws to tough spots.
"I am completely confident in myself, being a leader of a team, and playing games," Rudolph said. "That's what it all comes down to. If that's the case, I'm ready to roll."
But Rudolph has to make sure the timing is down on those tough throws. Rudolph said he needed to get the ball earlier to Diontae Johnson on a 17-yard sideline catch that required an acrobatic play to complete. On his interception on the two-point conversion attempt, Rudolph said surging defensive backs affected his vision.
These are good plays to experience entering a potential first start.
"He is going to throw the ball and make his reads," McDonald said. "I think he is very deliberate about that and that is something we can look forward to on offense."
More run-pass balance
The Steelers aren't a heavy play-action team, but Roethlisberger is most comfortable in the no-huddle offense and can use the short passing game to simulate runs. That helps explain his league-high 675 passing attempts a year ago.
The Steelers should support Rudolph with a stout running game to help set up the pass. James Conner and Jaylen Samuels combined for 39 rushing yards on seven carries (5.6 yards per carry) in the second half. That lessened the burden on Rudolph, who feels comfortable in play-action sets.
McDonald said the offensive line will set a tone in Week 3 and beyond, regardless of who's at quarterback.
"We rely on our big men up front to not only lead us but take charge as leaders of this team," McDonald said. "Just carrying us from week-to-week. Even with Ben up, they are our guys. We’ll rely heavily on them."
DeCastro said he is up to the challenge.
"We’ll see what this team’s made of," he said. "I don’t expect any drama. I expect guys to shut up and go to work.”
Creativity in the game plan
A 45-yard flea flicker to JuJu Smith-Schuster in the third quarter eased the tension for Rudolph and the offense, and everyone played loosely after that.
Surely offensive coordinator Randy Fichtner has some trickeration he hasn't used for a while. This might free him up to try some stuff.
And what helps Rudolph, college and NFL teammate James Washington says, is making extra time to throw with receivers during and after practices. There's not one pass-catcher in the offense that Rudolph doesn't know well, tendency-wise.
"He’s got a lot of weapons to play with," Washington said.
Make an imprint for the future
Rudolph now gets almost a full season to audition and, for the Steelers, this is his chance to inject clarity into the post-Roethlisberger succession plan. Roethlisberger is 37 and plans to play out the three years remaining on his deal, but the Steelers saw Rudolph as a first-round-caliber prospect in 2018.
"The reps in practice might change, but my [diligent] approach won't change," Rudolph said about how he prepares for this week.