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Big Ben approaching significant date in elbow rehab

Ben Roethlisberger's return to the field is nearing an important checkpoint.

Steelers coach Mike Tomlin told reporters Tuesday the franchise quarterback is approaching a "significant" date in his elbow rehab.

"I know he's due for an update around the first of February that will be significant in terms of mapping out what's next," Tomlin said.

The Steelers' 2019 ambitions were undercut by Roethlisberger's season-ending elbow injury, which required surgery and forced Pittsburgh to turn to Mason Rudolph in Week 2 and, eventually, to Devlin "Duck" Hodges. An 8-8 finish and a second straight winter spent out of the playoffs followed.

Roethlisberger turns 38 in March and will approach his 17th season while under a contract that runs through 2021. The agreement includes a dead cap number of $12.5 million in the final year of the deal, a tolerable number to carry if Pittsburgh turns to a younger signal-caller on a rookie deal by that point.

Tomlin was also asked Tuesday about his team's situation at quarterback behind Roethlisberger. The coach didn't exactly pull out his duck call in response.

"I'm comfortable with Mason Rudolph," Tomlin said. "I'm disappointed that he missed the amount of time that he did. Injuries are apart of the game. He had an opportunity there to grow and grow in a lot of ways and get a lot of experience. He missed some time due to injuries and performance and so forth. But I am comfortable with Mason Rudolph."

As for Hodges' future in Pittsburgh, Tomlin was noncommittal.

"In what capacity?" Tomlin asked when queried on his comfort with Hodges under center. "Mason is the backup."

Drafted as a potential signal-caller of the future in 2018, Rudolph saw his first game action in place of the injured Roethlisberger. He appeared in 10 games, starting eight and completing 62.2 percent of his passes. He also threw four interceptions in one game and got himself benched for Hodges, whose play inspired hope in the Steel City before his own interceptions earned him a seat on the bench.

That was Pittsburgh's season in a nutshell. As the team's own site wrote Tuesday, "Neither had played quarterback in the NFL prior to the just-completed 2019 season, and now they have."

Neither might play quarterback again anytime soon, depending on the status of Roethlisberger. The Steelers will know more in February.

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