Kenny Pickett ended his rookie season on a high note, leading a pair of back-to-back game-winning drives in Week 16 and Week 17. Grow-up games for a young quarterback and offense that led the Steelers to win their final four games of the regular season and come *this* close to making the playoffs.
But Pickett suffered a pair of something else in 2022. Concussions. Twice, he was placed into concussion protocol, and speaking with Pro Football Talk’s Mike Florio and Chris Simms Tuesday, GM Omar Khan admitted it was a concern.
“It’s obviously a concern,” Khan said. “Two concussions. It’s obviously a concern.”
Pickett was initially concussed in Week 6 against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, exiting the game after the Steelers’ first drive in the third quarter. Mitch Trubisky closed out the rest of the game but Pickett quickly exited protocol. He didn’t miss a practice and by the following Wednesday, returned in full and started Week 7 against Miami.
His second concussion came in Week 14, hit hard by Baltimore Ravens’ LB Roquan Smith on the team’s opening possession. Pickett was checked for a concussion, cleared, but then self-reported symptoms after the team’s following drive and shut down for the rest of the day. This time, Pickett was limited in practice during the week of practice and missed the Week 15 game against the Carolina Panthers. A second concussion was cause for a change.
“Kenny switched his helmet during the season out of recommendation from the medical staff,” Khan said. “I’m sure there’s some things that’ll be discussed with the coaching staff in terms of what he can do to take less hits, let’s say. But it is concerning.”
Pickett moved to a larger and bulkier helmet the remainder of the season. Both his concussions stemmed from the back of his head hitting the ground and the larger helmet provided more padding and support to limit the blow. Around the league, Miami Dolphins’ QB Tua Tagovailoa has taken a similar approach after suffering multiple concussions last season. He’s reportedly also learning judo to help him learn how to fall and reduce the blows to his head. TE Pat Freiermuth was also concussed twice his rookie year and once more his sophomore season, an alarming figure.
Pickett’s concussions could be one reason why the Steelers seem so adamant about keeping veteran Mitch Trubisky. While anyone can get concussed at any moment, Trubisky serves as injury protection behind Pickett should he miss time for any reason. But keeping the Steelers’ starting quarterback healthy is key to the team’s 2023 success and another Pickett concussion isn’t what anyone wants.