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What Has Mike Tomlin Excited about Kenny Pickett, Year 2?



Pickett with Rooney, Colbert, Tomlin

PITTSBURGH — Last offseason, Pittsburgh Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin made some headlines when he said he was excited about his team’s uncertainty at the quarterback position in the aftermath of the retirement of franchise icon Ben Roethlisberger.

That was certainly an unexpected reaction when Tomlin was asked on The Pivot Podcast about what the future held for his team at the game’s most important position.

“I’m looking forward to the anxiety associated with that uncertainty, with having to stand and deliver to live out what we believe in: the standard is the standard,” Tomlin said.

The Steelers did not meet that standard in 2022, finishing 9-8 and on the outside looking in as the playoffs get underway this week.

But they did find some certainty at the quarterback position, as rookie Kenny Pickett showed plenty of progress down the team’s 7-2 stretch run of the season. Tomlin declared Pickett the team’s QB1 going forward in his end-of-season press conference on Monday.

RELATED: Is Kenny Pickett a franchise quarterback?

That’s the good news. The bad news is that while Pickett showed significant improvement and signs that he’s capable of much more, the total package was far from where it needs to be, as Pickett and the Steelers passing attack finished in the bottom third of the league in nearly every statistical category.

So if Tomlin has certainty at quarterback, what is he looking forward to about this offseason and the 2023 season?

“Growth,” Tomlin said. “You guys know, here in Pittsburgh, man, we value the growth that has the potential to happen between Year 1 and Year 2. It’s natural. They’re no longer speculating about what this is. They’ve had a lap around the track. They’ve been in some hot situations. They’ve had some positive results. They’ve had some negative results. They understand the totality of this in terms of the toll that it takes on them mentally, physically, emotionally. 

“I think all of those things that encompass that is a rookie season is a good springboard to get better. To do it with a quarterback, I’m really excited about.”

Tomlin has been-there and done-that in his 16 seasons as an NFL coach, but one thing he has not done is develop his own young starting quarterback, and he seems genuinely excited about going through that process.

Tomlin also acknowledged that having a rookie quarterback held his offense back from doing some of the things he and offensive coordinator Matt Canada would have preferred to be doing in 2022.

“What you saw from us was what was appropriate, particularly over the second half of the year, in an effort to engineer victory,” Tomlin said. “As we move forward, man, we’re continually trying to get better and get better in all areas. Does that shape and effect your personality? It does. It does in all three phases. It does individually and in totality. But it’s our job as coaches to do what’s required to engineer victory, particularly over the latter half of the year, and we did what we did to engineer victory.”

Reading between the lines, Tomlin expects significant growth from Pickett in between Year 1 and Year 2, and growth from Pickett will allow the further development of his offense into a more-dynamic unit in 2023. That would be exciting, indeed.

RELATED: Saunders: Clutch play from Kenny Pickett shouldn’t be a surprise.