Lions’ Rudock making his case to be a keeper

Justin Rogers
The Detroit News
Jake Rudock

Pittsburgh – It remains unclear whether the Detroit Lions will keep three quarterbacks on the main roster this season, but rookie Jake Rudock is stating his case.

After a predictably slow start running Detroit’s complex offense, the former Michigan quarterback and sixth-round draft pick has been making steady progress through the offseason program.

“You know, I think he’s delivering the ball better on time,” Lions coach Jim Caldwell said after Wednesday’s joint practice with the Pittsburgh Steelers. “I think he’s gotten a little bit better feel for the concepts that we’re using.  I can see him kind of working through his progressions a lot more quickly, and that makes you a little bit more efficient.”

In the early portions of the offseason schedule, and into the first week of training camp, Rudock routinely displayed two negative tendencies. First, he was quick to tuck the ball and scramble, relying on his foot speed over progressing through his reads. Secondly, he was often forcing the ball into non-existent windows, which happens when you haven’t adjusted to the speed of NFL-caliber defenders.

Those mistakes have been noticeably trimmed in recent practices as the young quarterback is doing a better job finding the open man. That was on display in the joint practices against the Steelers, when he zipped a pass to fellow rookie Quinshad Davis, running along the back of the end zone, for a touchdown during full-team red zone work.

Five Lions to watch in Friday's preseason opener

For now, Rudock remains significantly behind Dan Orlovsky in the battle to back up starter Matthew Stafford. The Lions will likely have a difficult decision next month, deciding whether to keep the rookie as a third quarterback on the 53-man roster at the expense of another position.

The Lions kept just two quarterbacks last year after having Kellen Moore on the main roster as the third-stringer the previous three seasons.

Looking for clues from general manager Bob Quinn’s past, the New England Patriots rostered three quarterbacks to start a season twice in the past seven years. Like Patriots starter Tom Brady, Stafford is highly durable. He’s started every game the past five seasons.

Rudock played just one season at Michigan, as a graduate transfer from Iowa. Under the tutelage of coach Jim Harbaugh, Rudock completed 64 percent of his passes for the Wolverines, tossing 20 touchdowns and nine interceptions.