For the first time ever, Pittsburgh Steelers’ head coach Mike Tomlin has to find a delicate balance at the quarterback position between competing to win football games with the best option on the field, and figuring out the right time to turn to rookie first-round pick Kenny Pickett at some point in the 2022 season.
Of course, Pickett could be the best option on the field to compete in 2022, but based on how snaps have shaken out at the position in OTAs, minicamp and more, Pickett is the clear third quarterback behind Mitch Trubisky and Mason Rudolph — at least right now.
That could all change with a strong showing in training camp and preseason action, though finding enough reps in camp will be a challenge for the rookie quarterback. That, in and of itself, becomes the challenge for Tomlin and the rest of the Steelers’ coaching staff, regardless of if he wants to acknowledge that or not.
Not having a losing season in his career, Tomlin has done a great job staying singularly focused on winning each and every week, but at some point in the 2022 season the transition to the Pickett era will be necessary. When will that happen? How will that go? According to NFL.com’s Eric Edholm, that’s the biggest challenge facing the Steelers heading into the 2022 season, not the defense being able to stop the run, the play of the inside linebackers room, or even the play of a rebuilt offensive line.
“Given that Mitch Trubisky took the lion’s share of first-team reps during offseason workouts, it will be an upset if he isn’t the Week 1 QB. Pickett might be breathing down his neck, and Mason Rudolph remains in the picture, but Trubisky is the likely starter when the Steelers open at the Bengals,” Edholm writes regarding the Steelers’ quarterback quandary. “Pickett is the future, no doubt, but the first-round pick was often seen running the third-team offense this offseason. How will Mike Tomlin and Matt Canada handle those reps in camp? You can bet Pickett will receive plenty of preseason snaps, but getting him ready behind the scenes for a potential regular-season handoff will be a delicate balancing act. And Tomlin, who’s yet to log a single losing season as the head man in Pittsburgh, intends to keep winning.”
On Wednesday during the first camp practice of the summer at Saint Vincent College in Latrobe, the reps under center were split evenly with Trubisky, Rudolph and Pickett all receiving 12 each during team sessions, though each had varying levels of performances on Chuck Noll Field in Latrobe.
Reading too far into that initial snap breakdown is unwise, but it’s just worth mentioning as part of the Steelers’ ramp up to a full, padded practice starting on Monday.
Regardless of how the Steelers handle snaps under center in training camp and in preseason, it’s pretty clear at this point that it’s Trubisky’s job to lose, which puts the focus on when the transition to Pickett happens during the regular season — if at all. Though Pickett is clearly the intended future franchise quarterback in the Steel City for the black and gold, there’s no guarantee he sees the field in 2022. If Trubisky plays well, the Steelers are winning and are in playoff contention, Tomlin would be foolish to make a change under center, upsetting the apple cart.
Therefore, any discussion of a transition to Pickett would be thrown out the window, making it a non-issue overall. There are bigger fish to fry right now for the Steelers as they prepare for the 2022 season, rather than worrying about when to work their first-round draft pick into the fold under center.