PITTSBURGH — Mason Rudolph hasn’t heard from Myles Garrett since the fight that ended the Steelers game against the Browns in Cleveland in 2019. But when the Browns’ defense meets on Sunday, the Steelers’ quarterback is ready to talk.

I can’t wait to hear from Miles, whatever he’s planning… if he wants to come to me, if he wants to talk, Rudolph said Friday. He’s a great player and they play a good defense. He’s a background threat. He’s very destructive. When they play at their best, he pulls bags and goes to the quarterback. They clearly understand him very well and treat him with great respect.

Garrett said Friday that he’s ready to talk to Rudolph on Sunday.

If he wants to talk after the match or before the match, of course he has to, he said.

Realizing that Garrett is an important player in the game, Browns coach Kevin Stefanski called him captain for Sunday’s game.

It’s a big game, so I’m sending out a big man, Stefanski said Friday. However, it is by no means a reminder of something older.

After last year’s incident, for which Garrett was suspended for the rest of the season, he claimed that Rudolph had insulted him racistly before the fight. The NFL stated that after examining the allegations, it found no such evidence. Garrett maintained his comments in an interview with ESPN Outside the Lines earlier this year.

The quarterback of the Steelers does not focus on his story – or the lack of it – as he approaches his first start of the season.

Fault! The file name is not specified. Mason Rudolph says he hasn’t heard from Myles Garrett since the Browns defense hit his own Steelers quarterback with the helmet last year, but he’s ready to talk about the end of the defense on Sunday. Photo by David Richard

With the closure of AFC North, the Steelers are giving Ben Roethlisberger a week off to start his third year as quarterback. While the Steelers only play the play-offs on Sunday, the Browns have been competing for the top position for 18 seasons.

He hasn’t contacted me in any way, Rudolph said about Garrett. I have a lot of respect for Miles. He’s a great player. They’ve got a great defense, a great team. They play a lot. It’s gonna be a fun game. There’s a lot at stake.

They play for a place in the playoffs, and otherwise this game is too important to worry about something that happened years ago.

Rudolph’s public story revolves around the dispute with Garrett, but secretly Rudolph is working hard to become a better quarterback with the help of Roethlisberger, offensive coordinator Randy Fichtner and new quarterback coach Matt Canada.

Rudolph’s tenure as titular quarterback a year ago, in the absence of Roethlisberger, has been a difficult one. He suffered two serious injuries – a concussion and a shoulder injury that ended the season – and a week after the Cleveland fight, he was put on the bench by quarterback Dak Hodges training during a dismal performance in Cincinnati. Even before he faced Garrett, Rudolph played badly against the Browns. With a heavily depleted offensive weapon Rudolph made only 23 of the 44 attempts for 221 meters with four interceptions and four sacks.

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Rudolph ended his first season as a regular player with 1,765 passing yards, 13 touchdowns and nine steals.

With the preseason over, Rudolph didn’t have much playing experience – except as a sweeper in some late game situations – but he showed growth and maturity in practice and in the way he interacted with Roethlisberger and his coaches during the games.

Rudolph spends most of his games alongside Fichtner on the sidelines, and in recent weeks he has not only participated in their sideline conversations during television time-outs and between playoffs, but he has also contributed to those conversations.

I think that [Roethlisberger] is convinced that I am in my third year, perhaps I understand football at a level that I have not reached in the past two years, said Rudolph. He was very open to suggestions, and so was Randy.

Rudolph has shown a growing understanding of attack and has not hesitated to show his coaches or a former quarterback things that have drawn his attention to the clipboard – which, by Fichtner’s own admission, requires trust and maturity. Roethlisberger agrees.

He’s physically gifted, we know that, Roethlisberger said. He’s smart. We know he can take all the pictures and do all the things, but what I saw is also in the game. . . . That’s what happened in the past with Bruce Gradkowski, Charlie [Batch] and Byron [Leftwich], and Mason has come to the point, especially in the last two weeks, where he thinks and plays: Hey, Ben, what about this, or this? I think it shows the growth and maturity of a man who understands the offense and knows what we are trying to do every week. I think it was really, really good.

With Roethlisberger returning this season, Rudolph has not had a chance to show his improvement on the field, and he’s enjoying the opportunity on Sunday. But, he warned, he doesn’t see this as a prelude to his future as a starting quarterback.

I think it’s stupid to see this as an opportunity to prove yourself to your teammates and coaches, Rudolph said. I don’t want it to get too big. It’s a great opportunity to score points and try to win the game.

ESPN’s Jake Trotter contributed to this report.

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