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‘I’d Go To War For Him:’ Pickett Says He Loves Learning From Defensive-Minded Tomlin

He isn’t the first and he won’t be the last but Kenny Pickett praised Mike Tomlin for the job he does leading the Pittsburgh Steelers. On the latest episode of Cam Heyward’s Not Just Football Podcast, Pickett explained what it’s like playing for Tomlin and the influence he had under him.

“We had some failures early on and he always kept my head high man,” Pickett told Heyward.” He always kept me pushing forward. And then we had the success at the back end of the season. I think it really stemmed from having those failures and learning from mistakes. And he was kind of showing me the way as we as we went.

“So I got nothing but love for Coach T. Man, that’s my guy. I’d go to war for him every day.”

Tomlin had one of the most challenging seasons of his career, much of it self-made as the Steelers dug themselves to a 2-6 start at the bye week. Tomlin turned to Pickett midway through their Week 4 game against the New York Jets, benching veteran Mitch Trubisky at halftime. Pickett initially produced a spark and the Steelers built a multi-score lead but a fourth-quarter collapse saw them drop to 1-3.

That summed up the team’s early struggles, bottoming out at 2-6 at the bye following a blowout loss to the Philadelphia Eagles. By that point, Pickett had only tossed a pair of touchdown passes while throwing eight interceptions, crooked numbers no quarterback should have, much less a first-rounder.

After the bye, the team righted the ship. With a clearer offensive identity and better locker room culture, the Steelers went 7-2 the rest of the way, finishing the year at 9-8 and nearly making the playoffs. Though it wasn’t the ending Pittsburgh ever aims for, the Steelers’ resolve and fight proved the best in what Tomlin brings, never letting anyone quit or lose focus, keeping the team together, and persevering.

But Tomlin’s impact wasn’t just the intangible, the leadership aspects. Though Tomlin is known as a master motivator capable of bringing the best out of the group, he’s also a veteran head coach who has been around football for a long time. In a world of offensive-minded gurus at head coach, Tomlin is a defensive junkie and provided a different perspective throughout the year that helped Pickett learn the tools of the trade.

“He would add some things like in the quarterback meeting…in the crucial moments and those big third downs and those fourth downs when guys kinda show their identity of what kind of defense they are. Are they a man team? Are they a zone team? So in the preparation standpoint, because he’s a defensive guy, I loved kind of picking his brain and he kind of caught onto that. That I was kind of really big into preparation and having a good idea of what I’m gonna get from an opponent standpoint.”

Though Pickett’s overall numbers were far from special, the progression he showed throughout the year was clear. He took great care of the football in the back half of the year, throwing just one interception, and he was more poised when on the move, keeping his eyes downfield and making bigger plays. His pocket presence improved and he showed his clutch genes, leading game-winning drives against the Las Vegas Raiders and Baltimore Ravens, two must-wins for the Steelers.

Tomlin and Pickett will be joined at the hip for the foreseeable future. Two faces of the franchise, their success is interlinked. No team in the AFC can win without a top-end quarterback. The four teams still playing have Josh Allen, Patrick Mahomes, Trevor Lawrence, and Joe Burrow, all top-ten picks. And Tomlin is capable of steadying the ship when the team faces a storm, something that happens to every group every single year. For Pickett, he sees Tomlin as the man to lead the team.

“He’s consistently so wired and locked in. I don’t even know how it’s even humanly possible, like five or six in the morning when we get in there. The guy’s just ready to go, man. He is wired in.”

The Steelers need to be wired in to get back to the postseason next year. And more importantly, have playoff success. They haven’t won a playoff game since 2016. That road won’t be easy, the AFC North alone is difficult, but Tomlin and Pickett are the two tasked to lead the charge.

Check out the full interview with Pickett below. It’s worth your time.

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