Although he was hoping to be preparing for another game, head coach Mike Tomlin was at the podium on Monday for his final press conference of the 2022 season. With a number players discussed, it’s time for one last players mentioned by Coach Tomlin during his media time for this season. Remember these are current players where a specific question was asked during the Q&A period.
With a rookie quarterback starting the majority of games, Kenny Pickett was going to be a big topic of discussion at the end of the season. Coach Tomlin was asked how much input Pickett would have into decisions in regard to the coaching staff.
“I’m not going to delve into the dynamics of my decision making. It doesn’t serve me or us in any way to peel back that curtain. I have intimate conversations with everyone. Obviously, Kenny being our quarterback, that’s going to happen. But the nature and the details of those conversations and how that leads to decision making will never be discussed in a forum like this.”
In a later question, Coach Tomlin was asked what he’s looking forward to about the next step in the process of establishing his quarterback.
“Growth. You guys know, here in Pittsburgh, we value the growth that has the potential to happen between Year 1 and Year 2. It’s natural. They’re no longer speculating about what this is. They’ve had a lap around the track. They’ve been in some hot situations. They’ve had some positive results. They’ve had some negative results. They understand the totality of this in terms of the total that it takes on them, mentally, physically, emotionally. I think all of those things that encompass the experience that is a rookie season is a good springboard to get better and to obviously do it with a quarterback, I’m really excited about that.”
In a later question, Coach Tomlin was asked if he feels like Pickett is the franchise quarterback.
“You know, I don’t know what you guys mean by franchise quarterback. Is he our QB1? Yes. But there’s a lot of silly responsibility that comes with that term. Everybody thinks they’ve got one, but not everybody has one and all of that. He’s our starting quarterback. I’m not going to saddle him with that cliche that’s overused in our game, in our business too much these days.”
In a later question, Coach Tomlin was asked if he wishes he had given Kenny Pickett the extra four games of experience.
“I think his development is a process, and we’ve said throughout, I’ve thought his development took off once he started getting into stadiums in the preseason, so there was a process there. He was playing in the third groups. He was playing in the second groups. We gave him some first-group exposure. Preseason football is different than regular season football; let’s be honest. So, he bided his time and worked in a regular football season environment, and when he had an opportunity, when it presented itself, he showed that he belonged, and he continued to get better in that space. As I look back at it, I don’t know that I have any second thoughts or regrets about the process or how it transpired as I sit here right now. Maybe I’ll think differently as I analyze it in an end-of-season kind of way in the upcoming weeks, but knee-jerk reaction to your question, no, I don’t have any regrets about it as I stand here this morning.”
One of the biggest concerns coming out of Sunday’s game was the knee injury suffered by tight end Pat Freiermuth. Coach Tomlin was asked if there was any update on the injury.
“I think it can be characterized as an MCL sprain, non-surgical, so that’s exciting for him.”
Over the last two games, linebacker Devin Bush only played a handful of snaps. Coach Tomlin was asked if it was health-related or if Bush was not meeting the standard they were looking for.
“Not health related, really game-specific related. As we were talking about earlier, the nature of play of those two teams that we played down the stretch specifically, it warranted us to do some things in terms of division of labor that minimized some of his opportunities to contribute. But we make those decisions week in and week out in a lot of areas. It’s just football. It’s trying to engineer victory.”
Mitch Trubisky & Mason Rudolph
While Kenny Pickett is locked into the Steelers starting quarterback position, the rest of the room is more uncertain. Coach Tomlin was asked how he expects things to shape up with Mitch Trubisky and Mason Rudolph as they are two players who still want a chance to be starters.
“You know, Mitch is under contract. Rudolph is scheduled for free agency. We’ll see what happens.”
The Steelers also seem to have found a gem in rookie wide receiver George Pickens. Coach Tomlin was asked about his development this season in terms of maturity and character.
“I think he progressed in ways that most of the rookies progress. I just think it’s a natural thing when you’re a young guy and you get put into a professional environment around grown men that you grow and grow at a rapid rate. I saw that from him. I thought the consistency of his play and his productivity kind of represented that growth. But it’s a really natural thing. I sometimes get resistant when I get asked about his maturity and character-related things because oftentimes I believe he got mischaracterized pre-draft. So that’s why I’m combative at times and defensive when it comes to him. He’s a quality young man. He is. He’s professional. He’s been really consistent in his work throughout. He loves football. He likes to work. We haven’t seen a lot of things that we hear rumors about regarding in terms of him, and that’s why we defend him.”
In a follow-up question, Coach Tomlin was informed that it was Pickins after Sunday’s game who brought up being mischaracterized coming into the NFL.
“You know, and that’s business, unfortunately, particularly at this level. But sometimes, particularly when they’re young, they don’t do a good job of managing it, and it can affect their growth and development, and when you’re in my position, you’d better fight to defend that. That’s why I do. Thankfully he’s got a thick skin and he’s a tough-minded kid, and it had very little bearing on his day-to-day and the spirit in which he played, all those sorts of things.”
As the 2022 season went on, running back Najee Harris seemed to continue to improve. Coach Tomlin was asked to assess Harris’ performance and if the injury in training camp slowed him early in the season.
“Certainly, the missed time and team development slowed him down. I don’t know that he played in any preseason games and things of that nature. He’s a young guy. The skill relative to his position needs to be developed and honed in an effort to be game ready. He got on a moving train. That was well documented. I thought he got better with each passing day. He’s a mentally tough guy. He’s a competitor. So, I just thought his play got consistently better throughout, but also kind of expected it to be based on those reasonable variables and circumstances.”
In a later question, Coach Tomlin was asked about Haris’ leadership and how he’s grown in that regard.
“In natural ways in all areas, but that’s a reasonable expectation of a guy from year one to year two, but it also speaks to who he is that he got elected captain in year two, and I think that with each passing day, he wore that in a more natural way. I think he always had a desire to do that and be what his team and his teammates needed him to be, but I think with each passing day, I think he just wore it the more natural way, and I think it’s reasonable to expect it to continue.”
William Jackson III
Acquired at the trade deadline, cornerback William Jackson III never put on a Steelers game uniform. Coach Tomlin was asked if the injury occurred after Jackson got to the Steelers and if he will have a place with the team moving forward.
“To be honest, I don’t have a lot of detail. I think he was on the field one day. There was a lot going on that day. I don’t know how much direct eyes I laid on him. I don’t have a lot of information in that regard. I don’t.”
Following Sunday’s game, defensive captain Cam Heyward made some statements about if the Steelers are wanting him to return next year. Coach Tomlin was asked if there’s any reason to be concerned about Heyward‘s return.
“Cam is the same type of guy that will put a tape job with his last name on the front of his helmet in a training camp-like setting. That’s what makes him who he is. He takes none of this for granted, and that’s just an expression of that. Just like when he puts his last name on his helmet in a training camp-like setting. He is special because he has a special approach, because he is legitimately humble and hardworking, and he takes none of this for granted, so that’s probably what that was.”
Diontae Johnson & Alex Highsmith
Despite being the Steelers leading receiver for 2022, Diontae Johnson did not have a touchdown on the season. Coach Tomlin was asked what he saw with Johnson’s growth and responding to some adversity throughout the season. In his response, Coach Tomlin also mentioned Alex Highsmith.
“In the same ways that he’s done throughout his time here, and that’s what I mean when I’m talking about that we have a desire to be a part of the growth and development of players. We draft guys. We research guys, we draft guys. They play for us. They develop how they play for us. Guys like Diontae, Alex Highsmith and others are kind of examples of that. They’ve continually gotten better.”
After getting a new contract this offseason, Chris Boswell did not have a strong 2022. Coach Tomlin was asked if there are concerns with Boswell moving forward.
“I haven’t begun to assess it in that way yet. I’m sure that I will,and he will. We acknowledge and I acknowledge that the ball didn’t go through the upright at times and largely as much as we would like it to.”
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