The Pittsburgh Steelers got put in a bind with their quarterback situation late in the season. After Kenny Pickett suffered an ankle injury requiring surgery to return quickly, Mason Rudolph eventually took over. He played well enough that he earned the right to finish the season as the starter.
But what it also did is give the Steelers a murkier picture on who Pickett is following the firing of former offensive coordinator Matt Canada. In an interview with Bob Pompeani of KDKA-TV, Rooney says that was a big regret from this past season.
“It was too bad Kenny got hurt and couldn’t finish the season,” Rooney said. “Would’ve liked to have seen what he did down the stretch. Obviously, the season before he got stronger down the stretch, so it would’ve been nice to see that.
It seems unlikely that Pickett will go into 2024 without competition to prove he is the guy, but not having the picture of exactly who he is as a player in large part due to the injury is an underrated part of the offseason for this team.
But what does an actual step forward look like for the Steelers and Pickett? Rooney gave a straightforward answer: points better start showing up on the scoreboard. Without that, there are no true signs of progress in the offense. While giving no concrete answer on the traits that Pickett must show, if he does improve, the points should come anyways.
“The next step, number one, would look like more points, week in and week out,” Rooney said. “Just being a more effective offense, continuing to do some of the things we were able to do this year in terms of ball control, being able to run effectively, but then add on top of that, scoring more touchdowns.”
The Steelers also have a decision to make about backup quarterback Mason Rudolph, who had supplanted Pickett by the end of the 2023 season. Rooney was quick to point out that Rudolph has a decision to make, too, and did not sound especially confident about the Steelers being able to bring back the veteran.
“He is a free agent. We’ll see,” Rooney said. “He may have options, too. We’ve kept the door open to continue those conversations.”
The team’s unsettled quarterback position will continue to be a storyline to monitor for the Steelers throughout the 2024 offseason. Still, more than that, Pickett’s development will remain the biggest topic for the team’s future.