‘You Can Always Improve:’ Pickett Focused On Taking Fewer Big Hits In 2023

Kenny Pickett has plenty of room to grow in 2023. He can improve his mechanics. He can make more plays downfield. He can have a little bit better pocket presence. But to do all that, he has to stay on the field. After suffering two concussions as a rookie, Pickett’s focused on being available this season.

Pickett joined the acclaimed podcast The Pivot in a Tuesday episode – with hosts Ryan Clark, Fred Taylor, and Channing Crowder – and discussed how he’s working on reducing his injury risk.

“With my concussions, it was the back of my head hitting the ground,” Pickett said in an interview recorded earlier in the offseason. “So it’s tough as a quarterback. I’m going back to like how I trained in college. I used to train my neck a lot more than I did when I was getting ready for the draft. Because you’re like, ‘I gotta focus on these drills, I gotta run this.’ And I didn’t train my neck as hard as I should have coming up into the season. My neck strength so I could hold my head up and not hit the ground is something that I wanna focus on.”

“Neck strength” isn’t something you find in a normal scouting report but it sure beats a conversation about hand size. Pickett suffered a pair of concussions as a rookie, knocking him out of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers game mid-season and versus the Baltimore Ravens several weeks later. The second concussion was more serious and sidelined Pickett the following week against Carolina. The Steelers still won with Mitch Trubisky, and Pickett returned to finish out the season.

Of course, avoiding concussions is a tall task. But there are steps Pickett can take to reduce the odds. That includes his stretches and training and also his equipment. The NFL recently unveiled the first QB-specific helmet for players to wear this season. It’s logical for Pickett to use it, though whether he will remains unclear. He did change helmets after his second concussion last year so he at least seems open to utilizing the best equipment available.

Pickett also said he’ll focused on avoiding hits when he tucks and runs.

“In terms of style of play, I think I [could] get down, like I could slide,” he said. “How to get hit without taking the brunt of the hit and just those kind of things.”

Pickett admitted sometimes you “just gotta stay in the pocket and take a hit,” a trait he repeatedly showed as a rookie. But when he uses his mobility and runs, getting down and avoiding a hit is a better approach than trying to gain that extra yard and risk getting blown up by a linebacker or safety.

Pittsburgh should expand its offense  in 2023 and Pickett should have more freedom, though the Steelers will still be a unit built around the ground game. Still, to compete in an AFC that added Aaron Rodgers to a laundry list of top-tier quarterbacks, Pickett will have to make big strides in Year Two. Sometimes those strides mean more slides in order to stay on the field and give the Steelers the best chance to win.

Check out the full conversation below.

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