When a seasoned quarterback of 18 seasons leaves a franchise, there’s bound to be some growing pains for whoever takes over after him, as the Pittsburgh Steelers found out this past season which was their first without Ben Roethlisberger under center since drafting him back in 2004. The Green Bay Packers and Tampa Bay Buccaneers are two teams who could be in a very similar situation here in the coming weeks when dealing with Aaron Rodgers and Tom Brady, respectively.
From reading and diagnosing coverages, to knowing the offense and to leadership, these were several of the hiccups Pittsburgh endured this last season under free agent Mitch Trubisky, and ultimately their first-round pick Kenny Pickett, who took over in Week 4.
One of his favorite targets immediately was tight end Pat Freiermuth, who in his second season significantly upped his production from his rookie season a year ago, posting 732 yards compared to 497 last year. “Muth”, as he’s affectionately known by the fan base, had the distinct privilege of playing with a future Hall Of Famer at QB last year in Roethlisberger, and Big Ben has frequently connected the dots between the playing styles of Freiermuth and his former tight end Heath Miller.
As such, it should come as no surprise that Freiermuth was a guest on Roethlisberger’s “Footbahlin “ Podcast earlier this evening, and he was asked a variety of topics. The most interesting seemed to be when Ben pressed him on the growth and maturation of the rookie signal caller over the course of the season. His season started off rocky, throwing several interceptions, but down the stretch was when he played his best football, as the team ended the year on a 7-2 run. And Freiermuth let it be known that one of the qualities that stuck out the most to him about Pickett was his leadership.
“When we had Ben, like we all knew who to look to, look to like in the huddle,” Freiermuth said on “The Footbahlin’ Podcast.” “And they put Kenny in and Kenny was still adjusting like the two minute drive from Miami to then the Ravens to the Raiders, like him and the huddle was two completely different people.“
Those aforementioned victories over the Ravens and Raiders were perhaps Pickett’s finest moments as a rookie, as he led the team to come-from-behind victories in both games, becoming the first QB in NFL history to do so. And after throwing eight picks in his first five games, he only threw one in the final eight, showing off the growth and development that his tight end spoke so highly of.
“He was just so much more confident and so much more urgent and knew what he was gonna do. So it took him a little bit to get going. But he showed that he’s the real deal.”