Steelers’ Mike Tomlin on Kenny Pickett: We ‘Lie to Ourselves’

Getty Mike Tomlin looks on as Kenny Pickett throws a pass.

The second year is critical for any player but for no position more than the quarterback. That mean’s it’s go time for Pittsburgh Steelers QB Kenny Pickett. Year one was about earning (and keeping) the starting quarterback role and proving he had a good feel for the game. The honeymoon is over now, and the year two leap is expected to be significant.

The demands on Pickett are high. He was the Steelers’ 20th overall pick, and they want to be contenders, like, yesterday. So when Rich Eisen asked Mike Tomlin about his expectations for his second-year QB, he did not hesitate: “I expect him to kill it,” he said bluntly.

That leap is just as much about the mental aspect of growth as it is physical, if not more. “It’s the second lap around the track. He’s no longer speculating in terms of what this business is about, what the job demands, what the challenges are, what the feel of the process is like, whether it’s getting ready for a season or getting ready for a week. He has all of that experience, and so I just think it’s reasonable for him to have significant growth in all areas with that understanding to be more engaged in the process and to have an opinion about the process, to lead more comfortably in his own voice.”

The considerable difference between the offseason of his rookie year and now is that the Pittsburgh Steelers are Kenny Pickett’s team. He won’t be QB3 like he was in training camp last year, barely getting any reps and certainly not with the first team. He has total control allowing him to build on the chemistry he started creating with his offensive weapons last season.

“He has deeper relationships with his teammates, he’s delivered for him some, and so credibility is there, and so it’s reasonable to feel that comfort,” Tomlin said. “I’m just looking for him to take a significant step in all areas because he’s in a position to.”

But by the same token, Tomlin is hesitant to say he saw a significant difference in Pickett, 25, from when he last took the field to now, a quarter year later. But he also believes it’s too early in the offseason to truly tell.

“I think we can trick ourselves into saying, Boy, he really looks good. Boy, he really looks comfortable,” Tomlin said. “I don’t know that there’s a significant difference. I don’t know that we’ve faced enough challenges or done enough official business for that to be revealed at this point. But we, as coaches, man, we can trick ourselves all the time and, you know, lie to ourselves, Kenny’s on it this week. We just hadn’t been faced with enough challenges for me to really accept that at this juncture.”

Kenny Pickett’s Dedication to the Steelers, His Longevity

It was a big deal when Ben Roethlisberger suffered four concussions in his first five seasons. Some even pondered if head trauma was the reason for the Steelers’ 1-5 start to the 2006 season. Quarterbacks, especially ones who try to extend plays as Roethlisberger so famously did, are more susceptible to concussions. His successor, Kenny Pickett, had two in an eight-game span of his first season.

To help combat concussion-causing sacks and tackles, Pickett’s bulked up — the right way and in a good way.

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He looks great. It’s not like he went down, ate cheeseburgers and sat on his butt,” Pickett’s QB coach Tony Racioppi said on 93.7 The Fan. “He put some size on and got strong.” 

Having played at 213 pounds his rookie season, Pickett now hovers around the 226-pound range.

Racioppi said there was a fine line they had to walk to get there. “It’s finding the right balance between putting on size and being strong to stay healthy through a season, but also at the same time, not get too big that he loses the athleticism which is such a big part of his game. We tried to park it at a certain weight that he felt great physically, but at the same time, he still moves really well.”

There are many reasons to look forward to the Pittsburgh Steelers upcoming season, and watching how Kenny Pickett evolved in the offseason is at the top.