8/8/22-Early Quarterback Questions, Answered

August 8, 2022 by  
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By: Mike Pelaia

The quarterback race is on in Latrobe as the Steelers barrel towards their preseason opener this coming Saturday vs. the Seattle Seahawks.  The question is, is it really a three-man race and if so, does first round selection, Kenny Pickett, even have a chance at the starting gig?

The short answer is, no, it’s not and, no, he doesn’t.  Which begs the follow up question; why?

Well, first I’ll answer the question that wasn’t asked by saying that yes, this is the right move.  Pickett shouldn’t be the starter in the first week or even early in the season. Everybody wants to go back to 2004 and point to Ben Roethlisberger being a starter and leading the team to an AFC Championship game. 

Well, that leads to the why doesn’t Pickett have a chance question?  It’s simple, really. He’s a young quarterback on a veteran team and you

Kenny Pickett signs autographs for fans before a practice on 8/8/22 at Latrobe’s Memorial Stadium

have two young veterans who are competing for the starting gig, Mason Rudolph and Mitch Trubisky.  Neither is the long-term answer for this team, but both could be the short term answer for a team who may boast the best defense in the league this coming season.  There isn’t room, right now, for a kid fresh out of college to go in and make the typical rookie mistakes that all first-year quarterbacks make. 

Mike Tomlin and Matt Canada owe it to the team, and you the fans quite honestly, to provide the best chance to win football games, right now, it’s not with Pickett.  Should the team go out and lose early and often or fall out of playoff contention later in the season, then yes, Pickett should start at that point and be ready to be the top guy in 2023.  However, until that point, he should be the third string guy (as he’s currently listed on the depth chart (as was Big Ben in his first training camp incidentally)) or perhaps, if he shines enough, the number two, in front of either Rudolph or Trubisky.  

So, with Pickett essentially being eliminated from the top gig, who should it be?  Obviously, there are three preseason games to figure that answer out and I believe the team will need every bit of those three games to decide. In fact, so much so, to digress back to the Pickett conversation for a moment, I’m not sure how much action he’ll even see during the preseason because these other two guys need reps. 

So let’s start with Mason Rudolph.  He’s been in the system for four years, he knows Canada’s offense, he’s worked with guys like Diontae Johnson and Chase Claypool and he’s had mild success as the Steelers starter.  He has a decent arm, he’s intelligent and he’s easily the most comfortable guy in the system at this point of the summer. 

The counter points to Rudolph are the fact that he has been here since 2018 and has only had that mild success, arguably, no success.

Pickett and Mason Rudolph walking back to the field after grabbing a drink of water.

Nobody expected him to be the full time starter with Big Ben being the guy but when Ben went down in 2019, Rudolph couldn’t hold the starting gig and was beaten out by undrafted rookie Duck Hodges.  That’s got to mean something.  On top of that, the fact the Steelers went out and signed Mitch Trubisky to potentially be the starter this year and drafted a quarterback in the first round tells you exactly how the coaches feel about Rudolph. I think he has an uphill battle to grab the top spot on the depth chart.

Now, let’s move on to the newly signed Mitch Trubisky.  Trubisky received nothing but praise coming out of Buffalo in his lone year as a backup to Josh Allen.  Allen, one of the top quarterbacks in the league praised Trubisky and vice versa.  To learn under Allen is a valuable tool and one I think Trubisky will benefit from. Trubisky has 50 career starts, with a 29-21 record and led the Bears to the postseason two out of three years.  He was also the 2nd overall pick in 2017 so he has the pedigree.  I believe Trubisky is more poised under pressure, has the knowledge and confidence to win and since he’s the shiny new toy brought in via free agency, he has the leg up on the rest of the quarterbacks. 

Nothing is guaranteed for anyone, but long term we know the plan is to go with Pickett, rightfully so.  However, for now, the starter needs to be between Trubisky and Rudolph and while all logical sense would say it should be Mason Rudolph as the opening day starter, given his tenure and knowledge of the offense, reality points to it being Trubisky.

Mitch Trubisky signs autographs before practice on 8/8/22. Mitch is the likely opening day starter.

Trubisky is going to start the preseason opener. That much we know.  From there, he and Rudolph will grab the bulk of the playing time and Pickett will play cleanup when the backups backups are in. This will allow Pickett to learn and it will also allow Mike Tomlin and Matt Canada to see who prepares better, plays better and leads better between Trubisky and Rudolph. 

I believe the competition needs to be even and fair and Trubisky and Rudolph both deserve to start at least one game this preseason and play it form there. That said, I do believe the Steelers are leaning towards Trubisky already and the ‘open quarterback competition’ that was declared before camp may be a farce.  Time will tell, soon enough but all odds point to Mitch Trubisky being the Steelers 2022 opening day starter.

The real question is how long does he hang onto the job and when does Kenny Pickett take over?