PITTSBURGH — Last time the Pittsburgh SteelersIn 1996, there was an open competition for the position of quarterback. Kordell Stewart, Mike Tomczak, and Jim Miller were all competing.
Nearly three decades later, there are three new challengers who are now vying for the job. This weekend, the evaluation will begin. Kenny PickettFor rookie minicamp, Steeler suits up at the UPMC Rooney Sports Complex as a Steeler.
With Ben Roethlisberger’s retirement, the Steelers spent their offseason retooling and reloading in an effort to find his replacement. Three new Steelers players were added to the team after the NFL draft and free agency. Joining Mason RudolphIn the quarterback room, there will be Mitch Trubisky, Kenny Pickett and Chris Oladokun.
Realistically, seventh-round pick Oladokun isn’t in the mix for the starting job, making this a three-man race. Will it be the rookie or the free-agent acquisition trying to turn things around? Or the in-house candidate looking to make a big statement?
He has the opportunity to be the starter: The Steelers don’t view their first-round pick as a developmental project, putting him firmly in the mix to be the starter Week 1. After drafting the 24-year-old Pickett with the 20th pick, Mike Tomlin said the quarterback will get the opportunity to compete for the starting job, and both Tomlin and general manager Kevin Colbert said Pickett’s decision to stay in college for another year greatly aided in his maturity and development.
In a Pittsburgh radio interview, Colbert compared Pickett’s last season at Pitt to a rookie season in the NFL.
“It’s almost like he spent his rookie NFL season at the college level, and really mastered it,” Colbert told 105.9 The X. “Coach (Pat) Narduzzi and coach (Mark) Whipple provided him an opportunity to take that step in a pro schematic. It's easier to project such players and these schematics to our level. It’s not that the others that play in a more college-type offense can’t do it, it’s just more guesswork.”
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Pickett is also able to reunite with Matt Canada, the person who recruited him for Pitt. The two never worked together on the college level as Canada left for LSU, but Pickett is familiar with Canada’s concepts and Canada obviously felt Pickett fit in with what he wanted to do.
Why he’s vulnerablePickett is a rookie. Yes, he’ll be in the friendly confines of Heinz Field and a city that embraced him during his college career, but the transition to the NFL shouldn’t be underestimated. There’s adjusting to NFL defenses and the speed of the game, plus learning a new Playbook.
But Whipple, who coached Pickett for three seasons at Pitt and worked with Roethlisberger as his quarterbacks coach during his first three seasons, believes Pickett’s transition to the NFL won’t be as difficult as it is for other rookies because he’s staying in a familiar environment.
“I don't know if it's the easiest transition,” Whipple said, “but it's pretty much easier than maybe Ben had it or other rookies that I had at Cleveland.”
Ryan Clark gives his opinion on Mitchell Trubisky signing with the Steelers.
NFL Experience: 5 Years
He has the opportunity to be the starter: Trubisky was added by the Steelers on their first day of free agency. They worked quickly to get the former No. 2 pick.
“He’s young and experienced,” Tomlin said in March. “He's won — let's be honest, he's probably won greater than anyone else in the field,” Tomlin stated in March.
The last year he spent in Buffalo was as follows: Josh Allen’s backup and saw action in six games, completing 6-of-8 attempts for 43 yards and an interception. After a four-season stint with Chicago, he felt that Buffalo was an important year. He had struggled in his first two seasons and flourished in his second.
Trubisky’s strength in this quarterback competition is his veteran experience and a skill set that meshes well with Canada’s scheme.
Why he’s vulnerable: Trubisky hasn’t played meaningful minutes since 2020, and in his last season as Chicago’s starter, he threw 16 touchdowns to eight interceptions. He was also benched for Week 3. Nick FolesTrubisky was finally reinstated by Week 12. Still, he was inconsistent throughout his career with the Bears, and the work he’s put in since has been mostly out of sight. The Steelers won’t know for certain if the Jekyll-and-Hyde play is behind him until they get him on the field and in game situations.
NFL experience: 4 Years
He has the opportunity to be the starterRudolph, who has been with the Steelers for four seasons, is a well-known member of the team. He has the benefit of having worked with Canada for two years, first as his position coach and then as the Steelers’ offensive coordinator. After Roethlisberger’s retirement, Rudolph talked about getting an opportunity to lead the Steelers the way he wanted, suggesting that he’ll have more freedom to be himself with Roethlisberger gone.
Why he’s vulnerable: Since a tumultuous start to his Steelers career in 2019, when he got thrown in the starting job after Roethlisberger’s season-ending elbow injury in Week 2, Rudolph has largely been an average to below-average quarterback in spot starts. His best performance came in Week 17 against the Browns, 2020. He completed 22 out of 39 attempts for 315yards with two touchdowns. Rudolph was given another chance in 2021 when Roethlisberger, who tested positive for COVID-19 24 hours before Steelers' game, took another shot. Detroit LionsRudolph was once again thrust into the starting role. He completed 30 out of 50 attempts for 242yards with only one touchdown and one intercept, while many throws were off-target or inconsistent. His 26-yard rush was a sign of the mobility that the Steelers want in their next signal-caller.
Colbert declared in February that Mason was 5-4-1 as a starter. “This was one of those games. He discovered he was going be the starter Saturday night. He tried to give us all he could. We almost won that game, we didn’t. So, I’m comfortable that Mason has won more games than he’s lost as a starter. Where that can go, we’ll see. To be an NFL starter you can win with, you’ve got to prove it over 16 games, and I’m anxious to see that, if that’s the case.
Rudolph is a good quarterback. But Pickett, Trubisky and others have better upsides and more playmaking ability. This should give them an advantage in the contest.