Mike Tomlin ‘Has The Freedom’ To Play Kenny Pickett And Live With Growing Pains, Dave Wannstedt Believes

Oftentime in the NFL, coaches who find themselves on the hot seat needing to win are more reluctant to play young players and go through the growing pains in real time, especially at the quarterback position. That’s been the case in recent years with the Baltimore Ravens and Lamar Jackson early on, as well as the Miami Dolphins and Tua Tagovailoa, and the Los Angeles Chargers and Justin Herbert, until a freak pre-game injury to Tyrod Taylor changed all of that.

Of course, there are coaches who have a much better standing within their organizations, which can lead to coaches taking those chances on young players, allowing them to get the experience they need on the field, going through the growing pains early without worrying about potentially losing their jobs.

For Pittsburgh Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin, that could be the case with him and rookie quarterback Kenny Pickett in 2022, according to former Pittsburgh Panthers head coach and current FOX Sports analyst Dave Wannstedt, who appeared on 93.7 The Fan’s Morning Show with Dorin Dickerson and Adam Crowley Friday morning.

Wannstedt, who also was a head coach in the NFL with the Chicago Bears and Miami Dolphins, stated that he believes Tomlin is in a great situation overall and has the freedom to play Pickett early and often, being able to live with the growing pains without it potentially affecting his job security overall, similarly to New England’s Bill Belichick, who made Mac Jones the starting quarterback right away last season in Foxborough.

Asked if he would play Pickett right away or would feel comfortable with a rookie quarterback playing right away, Wannstedt added that he would, if he were in Tomlin’s position.

“I would. In Mike’s position, I would,” Wannstedt said to Dickerson and Crowley, according to audio via 93.7 The Fan. “I think it all comes down to, you know, Bill Belichick wasn’t concerned about anything because he’s not under any pressure. I think you get into a situation where the coach has been there two, three, four years and he has to win this year and now you’re gonna have some ups and downs and you’re gonna be on a learning curve with a rookie quarterback. That’s that would be very difficult.

“I think for a coach to pull the trigger on that and say, ‘he’s our guy and we’re willing to take the lumps with him, and if I get fired, I get fired,’ I think, I think you gotta look at the situation. The Steelers could do that. Mike Tomlin is obviously not under any pressure from a coaching standpoint, in my opinion. And so Mike has the freedom, I think, to play Kenny Pickett if he wanted to go with the rookie and live with it, and live with the growing pains.”

Wannstedt raises an excellent point regarding Tomlin, Pickett and the situation the Steelers find themselves in overall. There’s no pressure to win games right away to save his job, at least internally, for Tomlin. He has a tremendous track record and has earned a little leeway when it comes to wins and losses and a development standpoint, especially as the Steelers enter into a significant period of transition like the one they’re in throughout the organization.

That said, Tomlin isn’t one to throw away any season, let alone any week in the NFL. That doesn’t mean putting Pickett into the lineup to go through the growing pains is throwing away certain games or the season, but Tomlin has an obligation to the team to put the best product on the field each and every week and compete to try and win games and reach the playoffs.

Is Pickett the answer to that at the quarterback position moving forward? That remains to be seen through the rest of training camp and preseason. That said, Pickett has had his ups and downs and looks like the clear No. 3 quarterback on the roster, at least right now. That could certainly change, but Tomlin isn’t going to give the rookie the job just to build for the future.

He’s focused on 2022 and competing for a Super Bowl due to that obligation to the rest of the roster. That’s the right approach overall.

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