Mike Tomlin on Steelers Rookie QB: ‘Sometimes Kenny Gets Kenny in Trouble’

Steelers QB Kenny Pickett

Justin K. Aller/Getty Images Kenny Pickett #8 of the Pittsburgh Steelers runs with the ball against the New Orleans Saints.

Earlier this week, provocative Pittsburgh sports personality Mark Madden called Steelers rookie quarterback Kenny Pickett “nervous, sloppy, unsure” and “not ready to be (the) Steelers’ starting QB.”

With that in mind, it’s no surprise that head coach Mike Tomlin fielded several questions about Pickett’s development during his press conference on Nov. 15.

“I think his general growth — if you asked me to summarize the rate of growth and range of growth, it’s been really impressive in all areas and I think it’s reasonable to expect it to continue,” said Tomlin, when asked for a grade on Pickett’s development.

Mike Tomlin on Kenny Pickett: ‘There’s a Lot of Meat on the Bone’

At the same time, Tomlin acknowledged that Pickett has a long ways to go, though he declined to get into specifics in regards to where he needs improvement.

“He’s got to get better and play better each and every week. We expect that, he expects that, and there’s a lot of meat on the bone in all areas of his game. But that’s not a wild statement because he is a young guy,” Tomlin said about his 24-year-old first-round pick, who is 2-3 as a starter but has thrown just two touchdown passes (and eight interceptions) in six games.

Tomlin did acknowledge that some of the offensive line’s pass protection issues have arisen because of Pickett.

“Sometimes Kenny gets Kenny in trouble, but that’s just the nature of being a young guy,” quipped Tomlin, again making note of Pickett’s lack of NFL experience.

Meanwhile, Pickett has had some success running the ball. In fact, he has 27 carries for 149 yards and three rushing touchdowns, according to Pro Football Reference (PFR). That’s an average of 5.5 yard per rush, not far off his 6.0 yards per passing attempt.

By way of comparison, former Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger averaged 8.9 yards per attempt during his standout rookie season in 2004. In 2020, Roethlisberger averaged 6.6 yards per attempt, then 6.2 yards per attempt in 2021, his last season in the league, per PFR.

Designed Runs for Kenny Pickett Forthcoming?

Pickett’s effectiveness as a runner prompted a question as to whether the coaching staff might begin incorporating designed runs for the rookie QB, an idea the Steelers head coach seemed to dismiss out of hand.

“I think every time I say quarterback mobility, I always say the prudent use of quarterback mobility. And I do so intentionally because there’s risk associated with that,” began Tomlin. “Mobility is a good thing but when and how to use it while managing the risk component of it is always an element of the equation and will always be. Particularly at that position.”

Last but not least, Tomlin also fielded one query pertaining to Pickett’s role as a leader, which was perhaps inspired by how he publicly called out his teammates following the team’s Week 8 loss to the then-undefeated Philadelphia Eagles.

Specifically, Tomlin was asked whether Pickett has had a specific role in the offense working to find its identity.

“I just think they come to work every day ready to get better and they are bringing a good spirit while doing so,” he began, sidestepping the question. “We absorb a lot of negativity in this business and particularly when you are not performing the way you desire. Your ability to show individual and collective resolve and bring a good spirit to the work and not be bogged down by that is a significant component in terms of working your way out of those things.”

Pittsburgh’s next chance to work its way up towards .500 comes on Sunday Nov. 20 when the Steelers host the Cincinnati Bengals. The AFC North rivals faced off in the season opener on Sept. 11, with the Steelers coming away with a 23-20 overtime victory.