PITTSBURGH — Kenny Pickett had some promising moments in his rookie season and some other moments that simply left your head scratching and asking what in the world happened. However, there was one skill that absolutely needed to improve, and that was his pocket presence.
On Tuesday, there were some in the building that already really liked what they saw from that department. But Mike Sullivan wants the team to hammer home that fact to Pickett. The volatility of outside-the-pocket play exists, and all of the top quarterbacks have an innate ability to win from the pocket and outside the pocket. So, count Sullivan in as someone who wants to see Pickett make that leap as a pocket passer. If he does, he feels like he could be a top quarterback.
“There’s that ability to extend, but the next component is climbing in the pocket or going 45 degrees left or right but staying in the pocket,” Sullivan said. “There’s still enough time to go out there, buy time, and see the read, but it doesn’t warrant you having to leave the pocket. We took a look at other people, other offenses, and what they do. We’re working that out here on the field. It’s been pleasing for us to see the improvement in those areas from Kenny.”
Now, it comes down to Kenny Pickett making that jump. The out-of-structure is colorful and great. He’s won the Steelers games with that part of his game. But what’s always sticking out about Pickett is that he can make the team believe in him with his elite intangibles. If he can sustain play inside the pocket, there is an entirely new dimension to the offense that he can open up. When elite quarterbacks take their next step, it is always tied to their pocket management.
That goes from Patrick Mahomes to Joe Burrow to anyone else you see excel at a high level at quarterback in the NFL nowadays. Pickett does not have to be Mahomes or Burrow. But after seeing consistent improvement in most facets of his game in 2022 towards the end of the year, this is one that never really did improve. That’s fine. It takes a lot of time to learn pocket management and usually, it’s over an entire offseason when guys really take that jump in this area. When the games start coming, it’ll be time to see if Pickett has that attribute.