There’s three quarterbacks competing for one spot. And to quote Ricky Bobby, if you’re not first, you’re last. It’s certainly possible the Pittsburgh Steelers keep all three of Mitch Trubisky, Kenny Pickett, and Mason Rudolph on the roster; in fact, Trubisky and Pickett are virtual locks. But they’re all gunning to be the starter out of the blocks and only one of them will be given the keys.
Sitting down with Steelers.com’s Missi Matthews Wednesday, offensive coordinator Matt Canada outlined how the team will decide on a starter.
“What makes a great quarterback is his ability to take care of the football, his ability to make plays and [Coach Tomlin] to talks about those weighty situations, right?” he told Matthews via the team website. “Third down, red zone, two minute…obviously their understanding of the offense, their ability to anticipate be accurate, and then obviously to lead our offense.”
Pittsburgh has their first truly wide open QB competition for the first time in over two decades. One didn’t even exist in Ben Roethlisberger’s rookie year, 2004, a time when rookie quarterbacks often sat and only bad teams played their top guys early (Tim Couch, Joey Harrington, David Carr, etc). Tommy Maddox was the Steelers’ starter entering 2004 and only gave way due to injury. The rest is history.
You’d probably have to go back to 2000 for the last “true” competition between Kordell Stewart and veteran Kent Graham. Stewart lost that battle before Graham was benched midway through the season, Stewart finishing out the year and leading Pittsburgh to a 13-win AFC Title appearance in 2001. Even then, the competition probably wasn’t quite as tight or uncertain as it is right now.
Still, Mitch Trubisky is the leader heading into training camp. He dominated first team reps this spring, is the more experienced option compared to Kenny Pickett, and the more talented option compared to Mason Rudolph. At this point, it’s his job to lose, but it’s conceivable he gives it away in August. Pickett is day one ready and has a good grasp of Matt Canada’s offense.
Canada said a starter will be determined based on a collective body of work of the criteria he outlined and more.
“All those things, it will be a collective grade on those points that shows us who rises to the top.”
Pittsburgh is also looking for a leader and face of the franchise. That’s perhaps the biggest void in Ben Roethlisberger’s retirement. His ability to rally the troops, complete or nearly complete comeback after comeback, and be the grizzly veteran young guys looked towards when things got tough. Things will get tough this season, Pittsburgh will be tested, and they need a calm and steady presence on that field. Whoever that guy is will be the team’s starter when the Steelers hit the road for Week 1.