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Steelers Coach Mike Tomlin Explains Why He Named a Starter at Quarterback



Pittsburgh Steelers QB Mike Tomlin
Pittsburgh Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin and quarterback Kenny Pickett at training camp on Aug. 5, 2023. -- Ed Thompson / Steelers Now

ORLANDO, Fla. — The Pittsburgh Steelers will have an entirely new quarterback room in 2024, with Russell Wilson and Justin Fields joining the room amid the departures of Kenny Pickett, Mason Rudolph and Mitch Trubisky.

The Steelers will not release a depth chart for the 2024 season until the first week of August, but head coach Mike Tomlin has already decided to announce that one of his new acquisitions will be starting the offseason ahead of the other.

Tomlin has decided, that at least for the early part of the offseason, Wilson will be his team’s starting quarterback. He didn’t have to make than announcement, or tell his team that one player would be starting ahead of the other.

Tomlin doing that is likely part of what caused the exit of Pickett and his replacement with Fields, after Pickett requested a trade on the heels of the Steelers acquired Wilson. Tomlin had decided that Wilson was going to start the offseason as the team’s No. 1.

So why go through the trouble of naming a starter when he didn’t to, a choice that may or may not have caused the departure of Pickett? On Monday at the 2024 NFL owner’s meetings, Tomlin explained his reasoning for feeling the need to have a starting quarterback and not just a pile of players at a leadership position,

“I just think it’s appropriate to establish positioning as we get into this thing,” he said. “The term that I’ve used is Russell has pole position. Why do I use that term? Because during this time when we’re not formally working, I just think it’s beneficial. His experience in the National Football League. His process that’s been honed and perfected, talking about over a 12-month calendar, is not only good for him, it’s good for teams. It’s good for receivers, running backs, tight ends, etc. All the things that people that are really committed to winning do this time of year, Russell has those resources, that structure, and so that’s why I say he has pole position. It just creates a synergy that I think is good for this time of year.”

The team’s skill position players and quarterbacks usually have multiple player-driven practice get-togethers over the course of an offseason. The starting quarterback has traditionally made those arrangements, and been a conduit from the coaching staff to the other offensive players.

Then comes OTAs and minicamp, where the first-team players will work with other first-team players, but there is not a competitive element to the proceedings. Tomlin famously calls those activities “football-like,” and the non-contact setting precludes players being evaluated against one another.

Actual competition won’t happen until the padded portions of training camp and the preseason.

“When it’s time to compete, we get into training camp-like settings, and going to preseason stadiums and so-forth, obviously Justin will be given an opportunity to show his capabilities,” Tomlin said.

But that won’t happen until August, and Tomlin didn’t want his team to have a five-month leadership vacuum at the game’s most important position.

Wilson is the starter. But just for now.

Watch: Mike Tomlin Breaks Down Justin Fields, Russell Wilson Additions, Offseason QB Plans