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Saunders: Breaking Down First Week of Steelers QB Competition

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Steelers QB Mitch Trubisky Mason Rudolph

UNITY TWP, Pa. — The first week of the Pittsburgh Steelers 2022 QB competition is in the books and there have been some surprising and some not-so-surprising developments in the three-way competition between Mitch Trubisky, Mason Rudolph and Kenny Pickett.

ROUGH FIRST WEEK FOR PICKETT

It ended on a high note, with Pickett getting his first chance in seven shots and making a nice throw on Friday, but overall, it was a pretty rough first week for the Steelers’ first-round draft pick.

And really, that’s not too surprising. Rookies often struggle throughout the early part of training camp, especially in positions where a lot of mental processing is required. Pickett seems to know the plays, and his mechanics looks fine, it’s just a matter of reps, experience and confidence.

Pickett was billed as an NFL-ready prospect, and his age and college experience suggests that he should be. But even for relatively NFL-ready rookies, it’s not usually an easy or fast development process.

Earlier this offseason, I looked at the careers of the last 20 NFL first-round quarterbacks, and only two that had another legitimate NFL starting option on their team won the starting job for Week 1. 

Most of those quarterbacks were drafted in the top five or top 10, not like Pickett taken way down at No. 20. The Steelers aren’t rushing his process, they don’t need him to play right away or probably ever this year. If he gets to a point where he’s earning more reps or a shot with the first or second team, it’ll happen, and if he doesn’t, that’s OK, too.

Patrick Mahomes didn’t start until his 17th game. Dwayne Haskins and Lamar Jackson were held out until the second half of their rookie years, and didn’t play until an injury ahead of them forced their coaches’ hands.

And while Pickett has a lot of college experience, it’s worth noting that he didn’t become a big-time NFL prospect until his fifth season at Pitt. He was a starter for three seasons before he really felt comfortable in his offense, gained trust in his receivers and grew enough as a player to make a big impact as a redshirt senior in 2021.

It won’t take him four years to make the jump from college football to the NFL, but it might take him the better part of the 2022 season, and that’s OK.

RUDOLPH LOOKS GOOD … IN PRACTICE

Rudolph has probably been the most consistent performer of the Steelers’ three quarterbacks for the first week, and while that may be a big surprise to some, it probably shouldn’t be to those that are regular observers of the team’s practices.

The Steelers fans that have seen Rudolph start 10 games don’t think very much of his abilities, but the players, coaches, scouts and members of the media that watch him at practice have generally been a lot more positive about his potential.

Rudolph is not an elite athlete for his position, and his time in NFL games has shown a tendency to struggle in recognizing pressure and dealing with a pass rush.

The Steelers didn’t even put pads on for the first four days of training camp, and the pass rushers aren’t allowed to hit the quarterback, even when they will. It’s a lot easier environment for a quarterback to stay calm, cool and collected in the pocket, make his reads and deliver a good pass.

It’s still a good sign for Rudolph’s chances that he’s looked good so far, but he has the least to prove in this setting of the three. Without a live pass rush, it’s going to be hard to gauge how much progress he has made in the areas where he has struggled in the past.

TRUBISKY OPENS THE DOOR

The Steelers made it clear from the beginning of this training camp battle that Trubisky would be the first-team quarterback and Mike Tomlin said that he would be very deliberate about making changes to that pecking order.

“We’re not going to micro-manage or over-manage this quarterback competition,” Tomlin said. “The depth chart will not rest on every throw. I know that you guys will want to ask me every day and every throw. But we’re going to be a little bit more steady than that. I think it’s important from a leadership perspective to not over-manage it. To not be too impulsive. So that’s what I’ve relayed to those guys and our actions will continue to display that mindset.”

Even though the three competitors seemingly came in on equal footing, that choice, with Trubisky with the first team, essentially put the Steelers’ finger on the scale in favor of the former No. 2 overall pick.

That didn’t write the other two out of the competition, but it did mean that if Trubisky came in and looked like the stronger option from Day 1, he could shut the door on things pretty quickly.

That hasn’t happened. Trubisky hasn’t been bad by any stretch, but he has not put the kind of separation between himself and Rudolph that would shut down the competition early.

There’s no reason to panic for Trubisky, he has plenty of time to improve and eventually secure the job. But a chance to end the competition before it really got started has been squandered.

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ned
ned
July 31, 2022 1:23 pm

The only way Trubisky could have ended the competition would be if the other two guys were awful. And if they were awful, that would have been very disappointing.

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