Before I jump into any of this, let me say upfront: Jake Rudock had a good NFL debut. He finished the game 8-11 for 72 yards and a touchdown. He had the highest passer rating of all three Detroit Lions quarterbacks. He essentially led the Lions on three drives, scoring on two of them. For a sixth-round rookie, that’s pretty amazing regardless of the competition he’s facing.
Now that I’ve buttered up the Rudock and Michigan fans (full disclosure: I’m a Michigan alum myself), let me hit you with some harsh reality: Jake Rudock is not going to win the backup job this season. Dan Orlovsky will be your No. 2 quarterback and there’s really not much Rudock can do about it.
In the preseason, teams are utilizing a very basic playbook and are up against equally simple defenses. Jake Rudock proved on Wednesday that he can deal with a very simple game plan, an accomplishment that isn’t insignificant.
But by all accounts from coaches and beat writers during training camp, Rudock is still very much in the learning phase of the Lions’ true offensive playbook. And that is okay. No one would expect a guy like Rudock to be fully caught up as a rookie, especially when he’s taking third-string reps during all of training camp.
I know you guys hate Dan Orlovsky, and I completely understand it. When your slated backup quarterback does something like this:
When you try to throw it away, but you end up throwing it to the other team for a pick six...#DETvsPIT https://t.co/y8gIcLZxev— NFL (@NFL) August 12, 2016
... it’s hard to be forgiving. But Orlovsky knows this offense, and for the majority of the first half, he ran it efficiently. He finished with a higher yards per attempt (6.6) than Rudock (6.5) and if you take away this one, very bad interception, Orlovsky would have finished with a passer rating of 100.0. In his five offensive drives, Orlovsky led the team to three scoring drives, and the one time his drive ended in a punt was after he threw an absolutely perfect bomb to Jeremy Kerley, who promptly dropped it.
Dan Orlovsky has his problems, there’s no doubt about it. The bad pick-six isn’t an aberration, it’s a reoccurring sign of bad judgment under pressure. And that’s why the Lions drafted Rudock.
But it is way too early to throw Rudock into the backup role. He just isn’t mentally ready, and his 11 passes in a preseason game aren’t enough to prove that. Jim Caldwell knows Orlovsky and trusts him to run his offense like he has in years past. Much like Matthew Stafford, that comes with its downsides, but it is the better tradeoff than risking a rookie who will be way over his head in running a complex NFL offense.
The Lions are grooming Rudock to be the backup of the future, and if he doesn’t accomplish that goal by the season’s start, that isn’t a failure. In fact, that’s all part of the plan. Rudock was not drafted to be a part of this team’s plans in 2016, but his performance in the preseason did show he may capable of taking over that role in the future. And that may be enough to convince the Lions to carry a third quarterback, which, in itself, would be a huge accomplishment for Rudock.