November 29, 2021

Tim Benz: ‘Dwayne Train’ preseason hype showed a lot of deep-rooted scars for Steelers fans from ugly quarterbacking history – TribLIVE

Quarterback Dwayne Haskins’ stint with the Pittsburgh Steelers has gotten off to a decent start.

Most days he looked sharp in training camp. Then, during the first three preseason games, he was a lot better than I expected (28 of 42, 271 yards, 1 TD, 0 INT, 92.5 passer rating).

That was before coming back to earth with a ragged performance against the Carolina Panthers on Friday night in the team’s preseason finale (9 of 16, 108 yards, 1TD, 1 INT, 71.9 passer rating).

That tough night aside, I’m happy for Haskins. I hope he makes the most out of this second opportunity after washing out as a first-round pick in Washington.

Let’s be honest, though. The “Dwayne Train” hype over what he was showing in early August was getting a little out of control from Steelers fans.

I think that says a lot more about what we’ve seen in the past than what we were genuinely seeing from Haskins in the preseason.

Not to go all “Dr. NFL Freud” on you here, but I’m of the opinion that some deep-seated quarterback-related emotional scarring issues presented themselves in Pittsburgh over the last few weeks. And they manifested in our over-inflated view of what we were seeing from Haskins.

The end is near for future Hall of Famer Ben Roethlisberger. If not this year, then next. So the city’s fan base is starting to break out in a collective cold sweat about what is to come after he retires.

Is it going to be another 21 years of the franchise meandering through the NFL’s quarterback desert as we witnessed between Terry Bradshaw and Roethlisberger?

If we are looking at the blind darts that the Denver Broncos have thrown trying to replace Peyton Manning, or the hope pinned on Jameis Winston to take over for Drew Brees, or the fingers being crossed in New England about Mac Jones and Cam Newton (again) in the wake of Tom Brady’s departure, I can’t blame Steelers fans for fretting.

I can, however, use that obvious projection of fear as a reason to believe why Stiller Nation was so quick to believe that Haskins was a diamond in the rough. Because it’s better to convince ourselves of that than brace for the alternative.

Haskins was the devil we don’t know. Mason Rudolph is the devil we do. And — rightly or wrongly — it feels as if this city won’t give Rudolph a chance to sprout angel’s wings instead.

We see Rudolph and we see the guy wobbling to his feet with his Great Gazoo-esque helmet after getting knocked out in the Baltimore Ravens game at Heinz Field in 2019. We see the guy who was flailing away in defense of himself while getting clonked on the head with his own helmet by Myles Garrett in Cleveland.

Fairly or not, Rudolph is already typecast by the fans as a “between-Bradshaw-and-Ben” era quarterback whose very best still won’t be good enough.

And whose worst is tough to watch.

Just like Mark Malone, who got the Steelers to within a win of the Super Bowl in 1984 but threw six touchdowns against 19 interceptions in 1987.

Or Kordell Stewart, who was good enough to get the Steelers to two AFC title games in 1997 and 2001. But bad enough to throw them down the tubes with a combined six picks, not to mention three years of non-playoff failure in between.

Or Tommy Maddox who saved the 2002 season after Kordell’s departure to the tune of a division title and a playoff win then helped fritter away a 6-10 campaign in 2003.

It may not be appropriate, but that’s who Rudolph appears to be after his roller-coaster replacement of Roethlisberger in 2019 and his limited chances since.

That’s too bad. Because if you look at his progress since then, the numbers suggest he may be getting a little better.

They include a 315-yard, two-touchdown effort in Cleveland to close out Week 17 of 2020. Then, this preseason, Rudolph was 27 of 36 (75%) for 299 yards with no touchdowns or interceptions for a passer rating of 99.2.

However, Haskins was the new toy to play with this summer. He was Bubby Brister replacing Malone. He was Neil O’Donnell replacing Bubby. Slash getting the torch from Mike Tomczak. Tommy Gun replacing Slash.

Let’s see what the new guy can do! He can’t be worse than what we just had.

Right?

Does that sensation feel familiar to any Steelers fan old enough to remember the drudgery of the 1980s and then the close-but-no-cigar disappointments of the 1990s and early 2000s?

Even a slightly above average preseason against backup defenders from three below-.500 NFC teams last year (Dallas, Philadelphia, Detroit) can rekindle those old emotions and that type of behavior from Steelers fans.

That’s exactly what Haskins did.

Maybe Haskins will be for the Steelers what Drew Brees, Trent Dilfer or Kerry Collins was. A high-round quarterback who fades out with his original team only to get another franchise to a Super Bowl.

Perhaps he’ll hang around Pittsburgh for a while as a backup like Maddox, Charlie Batch or Byron Leftwich.

Or he could be a total bust like Ryan Leaf or Johnny Manziel.

In any eventuality, I hope Haskins is allowed to find his own path in Pittsburgh during what will soon be the post-Roethlisberger era.

A fate that has apparently already eluded Rudolph.

Thanks for reading. In the words of Lucy Van Pelt, “That’ll be five cents, please.”

Tim Benz is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Tim at tbenz@triblive.com or via Twitter. All tweets could be reposted. All emails are subject to publication unless specified otherwise.