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Throughout the offseason, the Pittsburgh Steelers have had a clear quarterback hierarchy as they get closer to naming the retired Ben Roethlisberger’s successor.
That pecking order remains unchanged, head coach Mike Tomlin confirmed on Tuesday, as the Steelers embarked on training camp.
Tomlin said that Pittsburgh’s quarterback depth chart will be static from what we saw in minicamps and OTAs, with free-agent signee Mitchell Trubisky earning the lion’s share of first-team reps, followed by holdover Mason Rudolph second and first-round pick Kenny Pickett landing third in line.
As the 20th overall pick this spring, Pickett’s time will come eventually. But the smart money appears to be on Trubisky to open the season as the starter the way things stand right now. And Tomlin preached patience and something of a laissez-faire approach to figuring out the position in August.
“I’ll say this, because that’s the elephant in the room: We’re not going to micromanage or overmanage this quarterback competition,” Tomlin said Tuesday. “The depth chart will not rest on every throw. … We’re going to be a little more steady than that. I think it’s important, from a leadership standpoint, to not overmanage it, to not be too impulsive. That’s what I relayed to those guys, and our actions will continue to display that mindset.”
Pickett, who turned 24 years old in June, arrives with experience, starting 52 college games next door at Pitt. But it’s clear the Steelers don’t plan to rush his development, even though he’s certainly likely to see ample reps in the preseason.
As for the rookie’s adjustment to NFL life and acclimating to a veteran locker room, Tomlin downplayed any idea that Pickett has anything to worry about this summer from an intangible standpoint.
“I am not concerned about that narrative,” Tomlin said. “I think that when you’re 22, 23, 24 years old and you’ve been playing quarterback all your life, you understand those informal responsibilities that come with the position. I’m more concerned with tangible things: accuracy, taking care of the football and things of that nature.
“I don’t have any level of concern about those things being in his wheelhouse. I watched him do it next door, in terms of leading his guys and being what quarterbacks need to be. I don’t think that’s going to be a significant discussion.”
Still, this is the first time the Steelers will be having a QB battle in nearly two decades. The Steelers’ first-round pick in 2004, Roethlisberger retired following last season, when he started 16 of the team’s 17 regular-season games along with the playoff loss to the Chiefs. Rudolph started the other game, a 16-16 tie against the Detroit Lions, and has the most experience of the three working with offensive coordinator Matt Canada.
But the Steelers have been giving Trubisky the first crack to start this year’s opener at the Cincinnati Bengals, last year’s Super Bowl runner-up.
Trubisky was the backup to Josh Allen with the Buffalo Bills a year ago, completing 6-of-8 passes for 43 yards and an interception, adding a rushing touchdown in his six relief appearances. He started the final six regular-season games and the playoff loss to the New Orleans Saints for the Chicago Bears in the 2020 season before they let him walk in free agency.
Tomlin admits some fear because of the team’s QB uncertainty but also said he’s motivated by the change and what lies ahead.
“It’s scary because it’s the unknown,” he said. “We’re venturing to a territory we haven’t been here in a long time from a quarterback perspective, at least for me personally. But it’s exciting also.”
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