The Pittsburgh Steelers, at least publicly, are saying that they don’t know who their starting quarterback will be just yet—even if, privately, they probably have a pretty good idea. Upon the retirement of Ben Roethlisberger, they brought in Mitch Trubisky as a free agent before drafting Kenny Pickett in the first round. And Pickett has been their third-string guy while everybody who was willing to address the topic has acknowledged that Trubisky is the starter.
While Pickett’s most attractive quality relative to the rest of the quarterback draft class was his purported NFL readiness, it should never be a surprise when a rookie isn’t expected to start right away. He is, of course, just one of 32 players drafted in the first round, and recently, ESPN compiled a list of observations about how each one performed during the spring thus far. Brooke Pryor writes of Pickett for the Steelers:
Pickett worked with the third-team offense throughout OTAs and minicamp, but he’s very much in the Steelers’ methodical quarterback competition. “We’ve been very clear that this is a real laid-out plan of how we’re going to evolve and find who our quarterback is going to be for the 2022 season,” offensive coordinator Matt Canada said at minicamp. Of the three quarterbacks competing for the job, Mitch Trubisky was the most consistent and Pickett has an uphill battle to unseat him from that top spot.
Wide receiver Chase Claypool, though, has been impressed with Pickett’s mastery of the playbook.”He understands everything,” Claypool said. “Sometimes I’ll be like, ‘Yo, what do I have here?’ Because we have some new plays going in, and he’ll tell me right away.” Up next: Pickett is heading to Florida to train with Trubisky.
Of course, it’s always worth reminding that we’re only in June, and serious competition for roster spots and starting jobs really doesn’t begin to take place until we get into training camp. The preseason games will say a lot more about how far along Pickett may or may not be than a planned pecking order for spring drills, a time that is focused on instruction rather than performative evaluation.
Trubisky is still regarded as the favorite to start, but we should expect at least a nominative competition for the job. I would imagine that Pickett will have his chance to start one of the three preseason games, probably game two, and if he manages to put together a strong performance there, then that will open up the conversation about whether or not he should indeed be the quarterback of record now rather than in the future.
But we have a long way to go before we get there. And really, if Trubisky starts, Pickett is always going to be over his shoulder. Trubisky understands that the Steelers drafted Pickett because they believe he is going to be their starting quarterback at some point. Which means that he can become their starting quarterback at any point.