Mitch Trubisky, Mason Rudolph embrace Steelers QB battle, even after adding Kenny Pickett

It’s May. As Mike Tomlin is wont to say, the players were wearing shorts. Pads weren’t on, and no one was tackling.

The regular season opener stood 110 days away. A small group of prominent veterans didn’t even show up.

But for all the qualifiers associated with the opening of the Pittsburgh Steelers’ organized team activities Tuesday, that didn’t mean all eyes weren’t on who lined up behind the center for the first rep of each team drill at UPMC Rooney Sports Complex.

Was it free agent signee Mitch Trubisky? Rookie first round pick Kenny Pickett? Veteran holdover Mason Rudolph?

For the first time since 2004, the identity of the quarterback who took first-team reps in May was relevant because the Steelers are in the first year of their post-Ben Roethlisberger era.

Well aware of the heightened interest and dutifully following what is preferred team doctrine, neither of the veteran participants was all that eager to divulge who carried Tuesday’s labels for QB1/QB2/QB3.

“I am just out there,” Trubisky said after the practice session when asked what the quarterback rotation was. “I go where they tell me. And we are just competing.”

Said Rudolph: “I think it’s going to change a lot. Today we were pretty evenly split (with reps). Rehearsals are not up to me. Whatever they want to divvy out to me, I’ll make the most of it and move on to the next thing.”

The QB1 at the first OTA session might not be so for the second. Or by the end of OTAs, the start of training camp, the preseason opener or for that first meaningful game at the Cincinnati Bengals.

But across the locker room on what was the first day of media access inside of it since the dawn of the coronavirus pandemic, more clarity could be found.

“They,” guard Kevin Dotson said, “pretty much said it already that Mitch is going to be No. 1.”

Who’s “they?”

“The team,” Dotson said. “Team-wise, they pretty much made that decision.”

As the most experienced NFL quarterback among the four on the roster (including rookie seventh-round pick Chris Oladokun), Trubisky makes sense as the proverbial leader in the clubhouse. A former no. 2 overall pick of the Chicago Bears, Trubisky has 29 wins among his 50 NFL starts. He twice has guided teams into the playoffs and was named to the 2018 NFC Pro Bowl roster.

“I feel very comfortable,” Trubisky said after the first full-squad workout with his new team since he signed a $14.85 million contract in March. “I think the staff and the guys around have done a great job just being in the books, studying and picking things up really quickly. I feel very comfortable with it. We’ve kind of installed through everything and then we are going to go through and find out what fits us as an offense, me specifically and the rest of the quarterback room.”

That quarterback room grew by two during the final weekend of April when the Steelers spent their first and last picks on Pickett and Oladokun. The addition of Pickett, in particular, would not appear to bode well for Rudolph or Trubisky because teams don’t select players in the first round without intentions of starting them.

Trubisky said when the Steelers signed him they didn’t inform him of any intention to draft a quarterback. But he also said he wasn’t surprised by the Pickett pick and that he’s “happy to have him.”

“Wherever I was going to go (in free agency), I was going to have to come in, compete, earn the trust of my teammates and get back on the field with hard work and my talent and just being a leader on this team Trubisky said. “So we didn’t have those conversations (but) I knew it was a possibility coming in.”

Over a span of six weeks, Rudolph, seemingly, tumbled to No. 3 on the depth chart after spending at least some time following Roethlisberger’s retirement atop it.

“That’s probably because I was only quarterback on the roster,” Rudolph quipped.

Rudolph, a 2018 third-round pick, was laughing when he said that. But moments earlier he had made it clear he believes he will be given the opportunity to earn the starting job.

“The last four years, you knew there was a Hall Of Fame QB in front of you, and you were developing, getting better at your position and doing everything to be ready in case your number was called,” Rudolph said. “Obviously, it’s a little more realistic this year that it would be called.”

Just don’t read too much, Tomlin said, into what number is called first for a May workout.

“We’re just working now,” Tomlin said. “Teaching and learning. There will be plenty of time for that. I understand the nature of your question. Nobody is going to win a job or lose a job out here in shorts in May.”

Chris Adamski is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Chris by email at cadamski@triblive.com or via Twitter

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