Mike Sullivan: Steelers Confident In Kenny Pickett, But ‘You Never Know Until He Is Out There For Real’

Coming off of two impressive preseason performances and a strong training camp overall, Pittsburgh Steelers rookie quarterback Kenny Pickett is making a push for the starting job in the Steel City right away after being the No. 20 overall pick in the 2022 NFL Draft.

Pickett, who started training camp receiving third-team snaps behind veterans Mitch Trubisky and Mason Rudolph, has worked his way up into second-team reps and continues to impress. He led the game-winning drive against the Seattle Seahawks at Acrisure Stadium in the preseason opener, and then led a masterful two-minute drill drive on the road last Saturday against the Jacksonville Jaguars to close the first half, finding running back Benny Snell Jr. out of the backfield for an 11-yard touchdown to give the Steelers the lead at the half.

On and off the field, Pickett is turning some heads within the Steelers’ locker room, coaching staff and front office. Now, entering his final preseason game against the Detroit Lions Sunday at Acrisure Stadium, Pickett has a chance to grab hold of the starting job under center, if head coach Mike Tomlin is to be believed when he simply stated “Yes” in regards to a question about the quarterback job being up for grabs in the preseason finale.

Even if the promising rookie doesn’t land the starting job for the Week 1 season opener on the road against the Cincinnati Bengals, the Steelers — especially veteran QB coach Mike Sullivan — are pleased with the way Pickett has progressed throughout the offseason and into training camp. That said, they don’t truly know what they have right now in the former Pitt Panther star until he’s out there in real games, not just preseason reps.

“Kenny is progressing in a way that we are pleased with,” Sullivan said to The Athletic’s Mark Kaboly, according to original reporting from the Steelers beat writer. “Every rookie, until he gets out there in a real game — it was real football, but preseason real football is different, just like postseason football is different — until one is in that situation, you never truly know. Knowing everything that he has done at this point, we are confident in him, but you never know until he is out there for real.”

Pickett has progressed nicely overall for the black and gold. Things don’t appear too big for him on and off the field, which isn’t much of a surprise considering he was labeled the most pro-ready signal caller in the 2022 NFL Draft. At 24 years old, Pickett had 49 collegiate starts and attempted nearly 1,700 passes in college. Quite the sample size at that level.

Though he’s attempted just 22 passes in preseason action (19 completions, 177 yards, three touchdowns), he’s received just 42 total snaps, which isn’t much of a sample size overall. That said, he’s earned some first-team reps in recent days in practice at the UPMC Rooney Sports Complex on the South Side, and is really starting to force his way into the conversation at the position.

All offseason the belief was that Trubisky was going to be the starter, Rudolph — if he wasn’t traded — would be the backup and Pickett would be the No. 3 and inactive on game days. You know what they say about making plans though. Pickett has thrown those plans to the wind with his play and preparation.

The Steelers, especially Sullivan, have plenty of reasons to be confident in him. Of course, it’s fair — as Sullivan does — to point out that it’s preseason action, which is much different from regular season action in the NFL. The Steelers won’t know what they truly have in Pickett until he’s on the field in live action in the regular season. When that happens is anyone’s guess, but rest assured: Pickett’s time is coming, and coming fast.

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