The ascension of rookie Kenny Pickett as the Pittsburgh Steelers‘ new starting quarterback ushers in a new era for the AFC North franchise. The former Pitt standout as QB1 and the replacement for veteran Mitchell Trubisky gives the Steelers a fresh start at the position.
Trubisky was always intended to be a placeholder, not the ultimate long-term answer under center. And the time for change is now. It’s better to give Pickett the opportunity to establish himself in his first NFL season and provides an opportunity for the Steelers.
Steelers hope upside of Kenny Pickett overrides experience
Steelers coach Mike Tomlin is hoping the upside for Pickett overrides the superior experience of Trubisky.
“I don’t want to dump the responsibility of what transpired at Mitch’s feet,” Tomlin said during a press conference. “That’s not fair to him. He’s played better than that description, but we haven’t. And so in an effort to be better, in an effort to score more points, in an effort to move the ball more fluidly, we decided to go to Kenny in the hope that he would provide a spark for us, not only in terms of our ability to move the ball, but just in terms of energy.
“And so, hopefully, that’s a catalyst for us as we try to move forward and change the outcome of some of these games. Mitch’s performance was a component of the decision, but not the only component of the decision, and I just want to be really clear there. Often times the quarterback position gets too much credit, too much blame.”
Pickett had his moments against the New York Jets. During one half in the loss to New York, Pickett completed 10 of 13 passes for 120 yards and ran for two touchdowns. He also threw three interceptions.
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Pickett will be the first rookie quarterback to start for the team since undrafted free agent Devlin Hodges started six games in the 2019 season.
“We have no reservations about what Kenny is going to be capable of in terms of schematics,” Tomlin said. “Obviously, we have a level of concern about the environment we’re taking them into, but we have a level of concern about any quarterback that you take to that environment versus that defense and that venue.
“Kenny has shown us maturity at every point throughout this process. He’s older than most rookies, and that was obviously discussed leading up to the draft process, the things that we valued in him, from a draft perspective: fluid and quick decision-making, pro-like anticipation, and things of that nature have proven to be true.”
Pickett pushed the football down the field more than Trubisky. He averaged 9.2 yards per attempt and 13.2 more air yards per attempt than Trubisky, a failed former Chicago Bears first-round draft pick.
“He played with swagger,” Steelers wide receiver Diontae Johnson said. “When he comes in the huddle, he demands like, ‘Huddle up, come in, listen.’ Everybody respects him. He’s a great player, and he’s young. He’s going to continue to learn and develop. It’s our job to make him look good and help him stay comfortable while he’s out there.”
“I have a little bit of an edge to me’
Selected 20th overall as the first quarterback the Steelers picked in the first round since Ben Roethlisberger in 2004, Pickett completed 13 of 15 attempts for 95 yards with two touchdowns during a preseason game.
“I think I have a little bit of an edge to me,” Pickett said Sunday. “I want that to rub off on everybody. I want us to have an attitude when it’s out there on the field. I’m excited to get back to work, get us back on track.”
Pickett was regarded as the most pro-ready among this year’s quarterback class but drew scrutiny for having smaller hands (8 1/2″) and 38 career fumbles.
Pickett was an All-American selection last season, a finalist for the Heisman Trophy, won the Johnny Unitas Golden Arm Award, and was named ACC Player of the Year and Offensive Player of the Year. He passed for a single-season school-record 4,319 yards and 42 touchdowns. Pickett also broke a school record with 12,303 career passing yards and surpassed Dan Marino’s record 81 passing touchdowns.
“Kenny played so much football in inclement weather,” Senior Bowl executive director Jim Nagy said. “He played in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, not Boca Raton, Florida. He played in the cold. He played in the snow. He played on sloppy, muddy fields.
“He’s always been productive. Kenny took full advantage of that extra year. He’s played a lot of football. He’s able to generate more torque and more zip on his throws and hit more plays. He made strides in several areas.”