Let’s face it: Baker Mayfield and Mason Rudolph will always be linked.
They played head to head twice in the Bedlam rivalry (Rudolph tried another time but had a broken foot). They were the triggermen at the same time for two of college football’s most dynamic offenses just 80 miles apart. They shattered multiple school records.
And they were both seniors last year, both selected in the 2018 NFL Draft, and will both be rookies this fall.
Another inevitable comparison as they get their pro careers underway in rookie minicamps: they’re both getting questions about being a divisive force in their respective locker rooms as they eventually try to win the starting job.
Mayfield was the No. 1 pick for the Cleveland Browns. Browns coach Hue Jackson has said since draft day, multiple times and emphatically, that newly acquired Tyrod Taylor, not Mayfield, is Cleveland’s starting quarterback, even though everybody knows that quarterbacks aren’t taken No. 1 overall so they can sit patiently and learn the playbook behind a guy who was only so-so in Baltimore and Buffalo.
Rudolph, on the other hand, was the third-round pick of the Pittsburg Steelers. No controversy there, right? Rudolph said he is eager to develop himself while learning from one of the best in the game: Big Ben Roethlisberger.
And yet, somehow, all the drama seems to be coming not from C-Town, but from the Steel City.
While Mayfield has given assurances that he and Taylor would not divide the Browns locker room and that he would indeed exhibit patience and try to learn from Taylor and backup Drew Stanton, Roethlisberger immediately voiced his displeasure with the Steelers’ pick of a QB in the third round (he wants players that can “help this team now”) and said it wasn’t good for backups Landry Jones or Joshua Dobbs.
After Rudolph told Penn Live “it’s not Ben’s job to teach me anything,” Roethlisberger took that to mean “he said he doesn’t need me,” and “I might just have to point to the playbook” if Rudolph has any questions.
Rudolph also said all the right things during an interview on NFL Network, praising Roethlisberger’s competitiveness and saying, “I’d probably say the same thing.”
Roethlisberger is the only person in this equation who stands to lose nothing. Rudolph isn’t going to push Big Ben for playing time, isn’t going to take his job — at least not this year or next.
Remember all that talk about Mayfield being too brash and cocky, too much like Johnny Manziel? Much ado about nothing, apparently. Mayfield’s said and done all the right things in his short time with the team, while Taylor has been appropriately silent.
Likewise, Rudolph has said and done everything right so far. Roethlisberger, on the other hand, who has openly said he was contemplating retirement and whose contract expires after 2019, has criticized his team’s draft pick and has taken a passive-aggressive public stance with his new understudy.
Hey, it’s the NFL. The drama manufactures itself.
Franchise columnist John E. Hoover, previously co-host of “Further Review with Hoover & Rew,” is the Franchise College Football Insider. Catch him on air every day in in Oklahoma City and Tulsa: Monday 12:15 p.m., Tuesday 3:30 p.m., Wednesday, 8:15 a.m., Thursday 10:15 a.m., and Friday 3:30 p.m. Listen at fm107.7 in OKC, fm107.9/am1270 in Tulsa, on The Franchise app, or click the “Listen” tab on The Franchise home page. John also covers the Big 12 for Sporting News and Lindy’s magazine and is a feature writer for Sooner Spectator magazine. Visit his personal page at johnehoover.com.