‘I Expect Him To Kill It:’ Mike Tomlin With High Expectations For Kenny Pickett In 2023

NFL starting quarterbacks better be able to embrace the pressure that comes with the job. And Mike Tomlin isn’t trying to downplay his expectations for Kenny Pickett. Appearing on The Rich Eisen Show Thursday, Tomlin said he has high hopes for Pickett in an important Year Two.

“I expect him to kill it,” Tomlin told Eisen. “And I’ll describe what I mean by that. It’s the second lap around the track. He’s no longer speculating in terms of what this business is about. What the job demands, what the challenges are, what the feel of the process is like…he has all that experience. I think it’s reasonable for him to have significant growth in all areas with that understanding. To be more engaged with the process and to have an opinion about the process. To lead more comfortably with his own voice.”

Pickett opened the 2022 season as the Steelers’ backup but quickly transitioned to starter, replacing Mitch Trubisky midway through the team’s Week 4 loss to the New York Jets. Pickett made his first official start the following week, a tough blowout loss to Buffalo, but those bumps along the way prepare him for 2023. He’s no longer the wide-eyed rookie figuring out the NFL. He’s no longer unsure of his role, whether he could start or be third-string as what likely went through his head last summer. The Pittsburgh Steelers are Kenny Pickett’s team and he can confidently lead in that manner, something he even admitted was tough to do as the initial backup last season.

Of course, Pickett’s already shown growth. He and the Steelers’ offense looked much better after the bye in 2022. While they weren’t a prolific group, they weren’t losing games, something they did routinely before their Week 9 breather. Pickett took greater care of the ball down the stretch and the Steelers put less on his plate. Still, he made plays, leading back-to-back game-winning drives against the Las Vegas Raiders on Christmas Eve and the Baltimore Ravens on the road to keep the Steelers’ playoff hopes alive.

With much of the same offense in place and new pieces added to make the group better, Tomlin is confident Pickett can lead.

“He has deeper relationships with his teammates,” he said. “He’s delivered for them some so there’s credibility there…I’m just looking for him to take a significant step in all areas.”

The 2023 season will be a big one for Pickett as the Steelers look to get back into the playoffs. There’s no question Pittsburgh’s in a tough AFC North and AFC when it comes to quarterback play, a division that is completely made up of first-round picks. As Tomlin noted, Pickett’s worked hard this offseason and demonstrated his leadership, though he also cautioned it’s too early to evaluate his “jump” this offseason, saying the team hasn’t been “faced with enough challenges” so early in the 2023 work cycle.

But September 10th will come soon enough. And Pickett will be the Steelers’ guy taking on a tough San Francisco 49ers defense. Though it won’t always be perfect, he’s expected to look better in every regard. Pittsburgh’s going to need him.

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