Hall Of Fame quarterback Kurt Warner’s story has been well-chronicled, going from undrafted free agent to stocking shelves at a grocery store to Super Bowl champion and ultimately, Canton. If anybody has insights on NFL quarterback battles, it’s him. He famously took over for an injured Trent Green in the 1999 season, piloting the great “The Greatest Show on Turf” offense to a Super Bowl title, while also winning Super Bowl MVP. After his Rams’ career, he signed with the Giants in 2004, and was named the starter, ahead of first-rounder Eli Manning, who was part of the famed draft which also saw Pittsburgh select their own future Hall of Famer in Ben Roethlisberger.
Warner led the Giants to victories in five of their first seven games, but a midseason two-game slide caused him to lose the starting gig to Manning. So Warner has seen, first-hand, these types of situations unfold from each side of the spectrum, and obviously Pittsburgh’s current QB depth chart checks off all those boxes, with free agent signee Mitch Trubisky and first round draft choice Kenny Pickett.
He spoke about it on a segment of NFL Network’s Inside Training Camp earlier this morning, seeming to give a ringing endorsement to Trubisky.
“I know on paper, we always look at it and go ‘Well, you drafted him, if you don’t have a superstar on the roster, then go ahead and start the young guy,” Warner said earlier via NFL Network. “I kind of look at it a little bit differently. When you look at the schedule that the Steelers have, which is a pretty brutal schedule, there’s not a lot of games that you just say ‘well they should win that particular game’. So what I believe the normal route of action is, you start a veteran guy, and it’s so much easier to go to the young guy if things don’t start out well for you.”
Trubisky is the presumed starter, as he’s been running with the first-team offense throughout OTAs and taking the lion’s share of snaps throughout camp thus far. One word Warner went on to use when talking about Trubisky is “intrigue,” as he feels the coaching staff should be excited to get him into a live game, which they’ll obviously be doing Saturday evening when they host the Seahawks in the first of three preseason games.
“He had some up moments in Chicago, led them to the playoffs a couple times,” Warner said. “Obviously they release him and for whatever reason, he became kind of a hot commodity, with a lot of teams wanting to grab him and see if they could turn him into the good that they saw in Chicago.”
He put plenty of good on his game tape during his tenure in Chicago, which started after being selected #2 overall in 2017. He had a winning record in three of his four seasons there, with his finest season being 2018, when he made the Pro Bowl after throwing for 3,223 yards, 24 touchdowns and 12 picks, while also rushing for 421 yards. The latter is especially important, as QB mobility is something the front office went on-record stating they were looking for after the retirement of Roethlisberger in January. To put things in perspective, Trubisky’s rushing total that season would’ve easily doubled Roethlisberger’s single-season high from 2007, when he ran for 204 yards. In fact, it would’ve been the most by a Steelers’ QB since Kordell Stewart ran for 537 yards in 2001.
Maturing and learning how to play the position were some of the things that Trubisky’s game could seem to gain some improvement on from his Chicago days, Warner noted. However, he feels the time spent sitting on the sidelines last year and learning under the tutelage of Bills’ OC Brian Daboll and MVP candidate Josh Allen will do wonders for him as the Steelers look to make it back to the playoffs.
Like Warner hit on earlier, teams draft quarterbacks in the first round with an eye on the future, and the Steelers with Pickett is not any different. However, he clearly showed his preference to having a veteran start things off, as throwing a rookie into the fire too soon can often do more harm than good.
“They’ve got the rookie in their back pocket that, if things aren’t going well, the season doesn’t start well, boom we can go to that rookie with all that excitement and we understand what that entails. If you go to the rookie early and there’s not a lot of success, with a team that’s used to having success, it’s really tough to pull back and go with another guy.”