When you consider the path for any player who declared for the NFL Draft up until their rookie season, it’s a whirlwind. Here is just a basic rundown of what these young players go through as they prepare for their first season as a professional.
- Finish the college season
- Possibly play in a bowl game
- Start preparing for the NFL Scouting Combine
- After the combine meet with individual teams and continue working out
- Have your Pro Day
- Hopefully get drafted
- Rookie Minicamp
- Organized Team Activities (OTAs)
- Training Camp and Preseason
- Regular season play
When you think about how hectic and tiring that schedule is for rookies, you can understand the proverbial “rookie wall” many talk about. It isn’t necessarily because they are playing 17 games instead of the 12 college teams play, it’s based on the vast amount of work they’ve put in since their last season ended until their current season concludes.
You would understand if a player decides they need to take a break and step away from the game for a little bit to rest and recharge.
But not Kenny Pickett.
The Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback spoke with Dale Lolley of Steelers.com recently and talked about how he only took a few days off before he was back in the gym and starting the preparation for next season.
“I was getting a little bit antsy and my fiancé was like, ‘You’ve got to get back to the gym,’” Pickett told Lolley. “So, I’m back in the gym, just getting some light work done. I need to do something every day or I’m not myself. It’s good to get back in the gym with the Pitt guys and see some of my old teammates.”
Not only is Pickett back working out, but he is also staying in town and preparing for the 2023 season from an offensive perspective. After finishing his rookie season on a high note, what is the next step for Pickett?
“I think full ownership of the offense,” he said when talking about individual steps. “When I first started this season, it was ‘Alright, I get to play. A, B, C, the basics and move on to the next play.’ Now, the more comfortable you get, you’re seeing things a step faster. You’re taking advantage of alert plays in the system that you can get more shot plays from.
“They’re giving me more responsibility from that aspect of it and giving me the green light to go do more things. I think complete ownership of the system is really what I want to do. And that will take our offense to the next level.”
Pickett admitted he watched a lot of the NFL Wild Card Round of the playoffs, and couldn’t help but be disappointed the Steelers weren’t able to punch their ticket to the dance.
“I watched a lot of them,” he said of the first-round playoff games. “You can always learn a lot from watching live games, especially playoff football. But, very disappointing that we didn’t get in. We started playing our best football toward the end of the season. We just dug ourselves too big of a hole at the beginning.”
Nonetheless, Pickett, like his head coach, also recognizes how the Steelers made their bed, and it was their lack of production early in the season is what ultimately doomed their postseason hopes.
“Like I said, we dug ourselves into a hole, but we fought ourselves into the playoff discussion,” Pickett said. “We can’t dig ourselves into that much of a hole. But there are teams that start off hot that kind of simmer down at the end. We kind of picked it up at the end. We just have to be more consistent throughout.”
When taking a global view of his rookie season, Pickett saw plenty of ups, and plenty of downs. The key for Pickett in his sophomore season as a pro is to learn from each of those experiences.
“There were ups and downs, just like any rookie season, there will be ups and downs,” Pickett said. “I learned from the negatives early on and kind of eliminated them in the second half of the season, protecting the football, taking a lot of pride in that, putting points on the board and just finding ways to win games.
“Down the stretch, the two-minute (drills), learning how to do that at the pro level as opposed to the college level, there are different rules, the stoppage of the clock after first downs, things like that. There were things I was learning early on, and I was kind of eliminating those things in the second half. That’s what I was most proud of.”
One of the memories Pickett has of his rookie season was when he was called into action in Week 4 vs. the New York Jets. There are some who believe Pickett knew he was going into the game, but Pickett himself said he had no idea, and it was a reason why he didn’t even take his helmet into the locker room at halftime.
“I didn’t even bring my helmet in at halftime, so I obviously didn’t have any idea,” Pickett recalled. “Coach (Matt) Canada said, ‘We may be going to you.’ Then, Coach (Mike Tomlin) was like, ‘Yep, you’re up.’ I was like, ‘OK.’ I went out there early and started warming up.”
Being able to control your emotions is something Pickett didn’t have to learn when he entered the NFL. It’s something he has had since his time as a starter for the University of Pittsburgh, and an aspect of his game which he credits to his success.
“I feel like I do a pretty good job of controlling the emotions,” Pickett said. “I’ve been playing a long time. From the college level, I’ve had a lot of starts. You don’t have time to be nervous when you’re thrown in there in the middle of a game. I don’t think either one. Either one was kind of the same. I get the butterflies before a game, but it’s all positive.”
The fact Pickett is already back working out and staying in Pittsburgh speaks to the type of player he is. He is a football junkie. Not every player is like that, nor is it a necessity, but Pickett seems to be a guy who is going to leave no stone unturned as it pertains to his overall success in the league. And that could be great news for the Steelers and their fan base.
Be sure to stay tuned to BTSC for the latest news and notes surrounding the Steelers as they press on throughout the offseason.