Pittsburgh Steelers list rookie Kenny Pickett atop quarterback depth chart

Pittsburgh Steelers list rookie Kenny Pickett atop quarterback depth chart

PITTSBURGH — The Kenny Pickett era is officially here.

The Pittsburgh Steelers listed their 2022 first-round pick as the starter on the depth chart for Sunday’s game at the Buffalo Bills.

Pickett will be the first rookie quarterback to start for the team since undrafted free agent Devlin Hodges started six games in the 2019 season.

Searching for a spark, coach Mike Tomlin inserted Pickett to replace Mitch Trubisky at halftime of the Steelers’ 24-20 loss to the New York Jets. Pickett responded by completing 10 of 13 attempts for 120 yards, with three interceptions and two rushing touchdowns.

“With Kenny in there, we were able to be the aggressor,” tight end Pat Freiermuth said Monday. “Obviously, some mistakes are gonna happen, some tipped balls and all that kind of stuff, but we have to continue to work past that and be there for Kenny, especially since he’s a young guy.”

In his regular-season debut, Pickett averaged 9.2 yards per attempt and 13.2 air yards per attempt, well above Trubisky’s season averages of 5.6 yards per attempt and 9.9 air yards per attempt.

Prior to entering Sunday’s game, Pickett hadn’t worked with the first-team offense since the preseason, but the Pitt product impressed his teammates with his calm, confident demeanor in the huddle and attitude on the field. Perhaps his most impressive throw came as he completed an 18-yard pass to Freiermuth over the middle on third-and-long as Jets defensive tackle Quinnen Williams flew unblocked toward him. Pickett got the throw off with pressure in his face and smiled at Williams as he got up from the field.

“He played with swagger,” wide receiver Diontae Johnson said. “When he comes in the huddle, he demands like, ‘Huddle up, come in, listen.’ Everybody respects him. He’s a great player, and he’s young, he’s going to continue to learn and develop. It’s our job to make him look good and help him stay comfortable while he’s out there.”

Pickett, 24, was the first first-round quarterback selected by the Steelers since the organization picked Ben Roethlisberger in 2004.

The Steelers (1-3) drafted Pickett 20th overall with the intention of eventually making him the franchise quarterback, but he entered the preseason as the No. 3 quarterback on the depth chart behind Trubisky — who was signed in free agency — and longtime backup Mason Rudolph.

Pickett struggled in the early weeks of camp but hit his stride in the first preseason game, when he completed 13 of 15 attempts for 95 yards with two touchdowns — including a game-winning drive against the Seattle Seahawks. He finished the preseason with an 80.6 completion percentage and averaged 7.3 yards per attempt.

The Steelers, though, were resolved in starting Trubisky because of his veteran experience and leadership, and the team even voted him a captain.

Trubisky and the offense struggled through the first 3 1/2 weeks, and their offensive output hovered near the bottom of the league as they averaged 18 points per game.

Though Tomlin preached patience and pointed to encouraging signs of offensive improvement after the Thursday night loss to the Jets, he ultimately opted to insert his rookie at halftime of the game, and now, he’s sticking with him.

“I think [I have] a little bit of an edge to me,” Pickett said. “I want that to rub off on everybody. I want us to have an attitude when it’s out there on the field. I’m excited to get back to work, get us back on track.”


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