All eyes will be on who lines up behind newly acquired center Mason Cole come September 11th when the Pittsburgh Steelers take on Joe Burrow and the defending AFC Champion Cincinnati Bengals in Paul Brown Stadium. The current consensus Week 1 starter heading into training camp is former No. 2 overall pick of the 2017 NFL Draft by the Chicago Bears, Mitchell David Trubisky. Trubisky was identified by the Pittsburgh Steelers early in free agency as a possible replacement to the recently retired, future first ballot Hall of Famer, Ben Roethlisberger. Trubisky was given the red carpet tour of the city of Pittsburgh, as done with those newly acquired players expected to have a significant role with the team. Offensive coordinator Matt Canada, left Guard Kevin Dotson, and interior defensive lineman Cam Heyward at different times have stated they were told by the team and/or head coach Mike Tomlin that Trubisky would be the starter based on experience and resume.
Many have speculated first-round pick Kenny Pickett would sit a year before having an opportunity to compete for the starting job, making the quarterback competition for the 2022 season either not as real as perceived, or between incumbent quarterback from the 2021 season Mason Rudolph and Trubisky.
I don’t think that’s necessarily true. I see Pickett being given a real chance to compete to be the 2022 season starter.
Pickett is his own quarterback with his own path. So I wont enter the debate of which is more beneficial for a rookie quarterback between starting right away for experience or sitting a year to learn from a veteran quarterback. I don’t think there is a ‘one size fits all’ answer for that debate. I will say due to the explosion of flag football, 7-on-7 ball, and various other football camps, has resulted in a higher skilled and cerebral athlete at a younger age. This is why I believe in the last six years there has been an uptick in good quarterbacks coming into the league who have developed much quicker than in years before. This might not mean they are necessarily starting Week 1, but relatively soon. So, to try to predict if, or when, Pickett starts before a practice snap in full pads has happened is impossible. Instead of attempting my best Nostradamus impression, I will explain why I think Pickett will be given the opportunity to be the starting quarterback for the Steelers early in the 2022 season.
For Pickett, he comes to the Steelers being regarded as the most pro-ready quarterback coming out of the 2022 NFL Draft. He was the 1st overall quarterback to be selected at the 20th spot. Pickett, by far, had the most experience from the other quarterbacks entering the draft having started games for the Pitt Panthers in 5 seasons, appearing in 52 games, throwing for 12,303 yards, 81 touchdowns, 32 interceptions, 62% completion percentage for a passer rating of 136.3. Majority of Pickett’s success came in his 5th, and final, season, where he led Pitt to an ACC Championship, broke Dan Marino’s single-season record, won the Johnny Unitas Golden Arm Award, was named a first team All-American and a finalist for the Heisman Trophy finishing in 3rd place.
What do all those accolades mean to the NFL and the Pittsburgh Steelers?....Nothing.
Pickett’s collegiate accomplishments, as great as they are, have only set him up for an opportunity to be a member of the team and have not guaranteed anything. Similar to how a team having great regular season play puts said team into position for the playoffs, but once the tournament starts, those regular season accolades mean nothing other than positioning. Pickett has positioned himself for the right to compete for the starting job.
Who ultimately decides to put Pickett in, if he is the best answer? That person is Mike Tomlin. Rumors spread rampant throughout the 2021 season referencing what would be the retirement of Ben Roethlisberger and who Tomlin expected to replace him. Just after the Week 5 game against the Denver Broncos, Jay Glazer, in a segment called “ask Glazer” when answering if Aaron Rodgers was to be traded to the Steelers for the 2022 season, answered:
“Mike Tomlin told me this too, that he doesn’t want to start over with a rookie, Steelers are going to want to go with a veteran.”
So that’s it, Trubisky is the starter...
Not so fast.
I prefer to take my opinion or thoughts of what coach Tomlin will or wont doing from Tomlin himself. Mike Tomlin doesn't hide his strong personality or intentions. He is known as a tell-you-how-it-is coach, whose honesty has made him one of the most respected coaches in the NFL by his peers and players. Tomlin is the king of consistency and preaches it to his staff and players. You hear ‘Tomlinisms’ from players all the time, from the “nameless gray faces” to the “5 star match up cause we in it”. Tomlin’s teachings can be found on every player and coach he comes across.
Tomlin was recently a guest on the Pivot Podcast with former Steelers safety Ryan Clark, former Jacksonville running back Fred Taylor and former Dolphins linebacker Channing Crowder. On the podcast Tomlin stated he is very routine and was adamant of not seeking comfort.
Let’s look back at the last time there was a question at the quarterback position. 2019 Ben Roethlisberger goes down with a season-ending elbow injury in the second game of the season. Enter 2nd year quarterback Mason Rudolph. Rudolph would be knocked out a couple games later by Earl Thomas and the Baltimore Ravens. At that point, the legendary Devlin “Duck” Hodges, an undrafted rookie quarterback out of Stamford, would make his debut. Duck would start and win the next game on the road in prime time against the Los Angeles Chargers. Rudolph would return to the starting line up the next game in lieu of Duck’s victory against the Chargers.
Rudolph would go 5-3 in 2019 as a starter. Even though Rudolph had a winning record as a starter, Mike Tomlin pulled Rudolph, the potential heir apparent to Roethlisberger, a quarterback the Steelers reportedly had a 1st round grade on, for a quarterback going into 2019 was a camp arm in Duck Hodges.
Six quarters is all it took! After a 3-game winning streak, on a short week, Rudolph had his worst game as a professional quarterback against the Cleveland Browns. The infamous helmet attack on Rudolph by Myles Garrett. In that game Rudolph threw 4 interceptions to just one touchdown. The following week in Cincinnati, one interception is all it took for Tomlin to pull Rudolph in the 1st half.
That was not very long of a leash.
The Steelers were in a bad spot in 2019 losing the franchise quarterback due to injury. Rudolph would replace a benched Hodges against the Jets only to go down with a shoulder injury ending his season and with Hodges’ decline in play, also ending the Steelers season. Mike Tomlin did what it took so the 2019 Steelers would be competitive and, even though the season didn’t turn out as planned, the Steelers still finished with a winning record.
Tomlin did not swim in the comfort of his prior accomplishments, or use the excuse of losing Ben Roethlisberger to give up on that 2019 season. Tomlin could have coached for a high draft pick. Instead Tomlin and Kevin Colnert didnt blink and instead traded their 1st round pick for All-Pro safety Minkah Fitzpatrick.
Why would Tomlin change now? How long is Trubisky’s leash? Behind Trubisky is not a camp arm, it’s Kenny Pickett, the 1st round pick and hopefully the next franchise quarterback. If Pickett can show he is better than Trubisky, I don’t expect Tomlin to hold him back, even if Trubisky is on path for a winning record, as mentioned before, Tomlin doesn’t seek comfort and won’t be content for mediocrity. Does Tomlin sit Pickett, or can you see Pickett being the starter Week 1 or at any point in the 2022 season?