As I look ahead to Pittsburgh Steelers training camp this summer, my brain actually goes back to Saint Vincent College in 2010.
That’s when we knew Ben Roethlisberger was going to be suspended for at least the first four (and perhaps six) games of the season. So we were all maniacally and precisely counting every practice snap, watching every drill and meticulously scrutinizing every preseason series between Roethlisberger, Charlie Batch, Byron Leftwich and Dennis Dixon.
It’s going to feel like that again this August. The only difference is that we all knew that by no later than Week 6 Roethlisberger would be the starter.
Now we have no idea who will be starting in Week 1 of 2022, Week 4, Week 6 or the next two years, for that matter.
The candidates are recently signed free agent Mitch Trubisky, returning backup Mason Rudolph, first-round draft choice Kenny Pickett and seventh-round draft choice Chris Oladokun.
Hey, don’t laugh at including Oladokun. Remember, Dixon ended up having to be the opening day starter in 2010 because of Roethlisberger’s suspension and a knee injury for Leftwich. Then it was Batch who closed out the first four games after Dixon got hurt in Week 2.
And we all probably laughed at the notion of a guy named “Duck” getting starts in 2019 as well.
Having witnessed both of those scenarios together, that’s why general manager Kevin Colbert and head coach Mike Tomlin want to have as many options available as possible to determine a starter.
“I expect it to be fierce because I know all three guys,” Tomlin said on a recent edition of “The Rich Eisen Show.” “I don’t expect anyone to take a backseat.”
OK so maybe by “three guys” Tomlin isn’t factoring Oladokun into the equation. But in terms of him fighting for a roster spot, why not? If the Steelers can find a trade partner for Rudolph or (much less likely) Trubisky, perhaps Oladokun can land himself a gig.
“I’m excited about watching these guys compete, just like I am at any position where you’ve got some viable options,” Tomlin continued. “So, we’ll proceed with that understanding that it’s going to be challenging from an organization standpoint, but it’s a good challenge, and I’m excited about watching those guys perform.”
Colbert echoed those sentiments on Thursday’s “Mark Madden Show” on 105.9 The Xinsisting that there will be enough snaps to go around for the four QBs.
“We have got four young quarterbacks all in their early 20s,” Colbert said. “Let them fight it out. Sort it out. But, at least, we’ll have some options as they sort themselves out. They’ll have the OTAs endeavor. The minicamps. Training champs. The three preseason games. I think, at the end, coach Tomlin will pick the one that he thinks will help them win. But it’s nice to have as many options as you can.”
Keep in mind, though, that Pickett is already going to be 24 before training camp begins. He has 49 college starts under his belt from him. Plus, the Steelers spent the No. 20 draft choice on him. So one school of thought is, “Why bother messing around? Just start him in Week 1.”
Colbert tried to quell that opinion by telling Madden, “We all think that Kenny can be a starting quarterback. But at what point? We don’t know.”
However, when Madden shifted the conversation to what the Steelers saw in Pickett that made him worthy of being the No. 20 selection, Colbert may have revealed exactly how prepared they think Pickett could be to start quickly in the NFL. He did so by citing Pickett’s decision to return to Pitt for a fifth year of college competition.
“I give Kenny credit. He returned for that extra year,” Colbert said. “That was huge for him. It’s almost like he spent his rookie NFL season at the college level and really mastered it. Coach (Pat) Narduzzi and coach (Mark) Whipple provided him an opportunity to take that step in a pro schematic. And it is easier to project those types of players and those 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.”
It certainly doesn’t sound like Pickett is being viewed by Colbert as a typical rookie quarterback with a big learning curve.
To reiterate, “It’s almost like he spent his rookie NFL season at the college level.” Not only that but he “mastered it.” And he did so in a “pro schematic” with limited “guesswork” about how his talents would translate to the pros.
Colbert wasn’t done, even drawing parallels between Pickett’s potential readiness to that which was illustrated by second-year AFC Champion Joe Burrow when the Cincinnati Bengals drafted him in 2020.
“The maturity level that he displayed was very similar to what Joe Burrow did gone at LSU when he had down there and returned and put together a dynamic senior year that resulted in a national championship,” Colbert told Madden. “Whereas Kenny put together a dynamic senior year that helped Pitt win that ACC. So I think his maturity, coming out of a pro schematic, certainly will accelerate his growth in our league.
If you are Trubisky or Rudolph, what are you thinking when you read that? I know what I’d be thinking.
“Que?! They think this guy is Joe Burrow already?!”
Given his age, experience and draft investment, I’d be all on board with starting Pickett in Week 1 if all things are equal based on performance in training camp and the preseason. Because let’s be honest, given all those factors in Pickett’s favor, if all things are equal… they actually aren’t.
Accuse me of reading the tea leaves too much in May if you want. But, much like these QBs, I’m just getting in a few early reps before training camp begins.
I remember what 2010 was like. Gotta be in top form myself. Six weeks of non-stop quarterback speculation in the summer heat takes a lot of stamina.
Tim Benz is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Tim at email@example.com or via Twitter. All tweets could be reposted. All emails are subject to publication unless otherwise specified.
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