Trubisky starting QB, rookie Pickett the backup for Steelers

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Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Kenny Pickett (8) call signals at the line of scrimmage as he plays against the Detroit Lions during the second half of an NFL preseason football game, Sunday, Aug. 28, 2022, in Pittsburgh. (AP Photo/Don Wright)

PITTSBURGH – Mitch Trubisky, Kenny Pickett and Mason Rudolph all impressed Pittsburgh Steelers coach Mike Tomlin during the preseason with their respective accuracy.

If only the same could be said for whoever put together the team's initial depth chart for the 2022 season.

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While Tomlin announced Trubisky as the starter on Tuesday — a move telegraphed a day prior when Trubisky's teammates voted him one of five captains for 2022 and the depth chart placed Trubisky's name at the top — it will be Pickett and not Rudolph who will serve as Trubisky's backup on Sunday when the Steelers open at defending AFC champion Cincinnati.

The chart released on Monday had Rudolph listed as the No. 2 before being corrected shortly before Tomlin spoke on Tuesday. Entering his 16th season, Tomlin laughed off the mix-up as a clerical error.

“The cut-and-paste component was the cut-and-paste component,” Tomlin said with a smile. “ I know you were hoping for a little bit more colorful explanation, but it is what it is."

Tomlin and the Steelers are optimistic the depth chart won't require much editing in the coming weeks following a solid preseason by Trubisky in which the 28-year-old gave the coaching staff little reason to consider turning to Pickett, the 20th overall pick in the draft, or Rudolph, who is now in his fifth season with the club.

“We're just really comfortable with what Mitch has shown us,” Tomlin said. “He’s a guy that came to us with franchise quarterback experience if you will. He’s comfortable in those shoes.”

Trubisky has certainly acted the part over the past six months, immediately embracing his fresh start after spending 2021 backing up Josh Allen in Buffalo following four turbulent seasons in Chicago. He reached out to his new teammates shortly after signing an incentive-laden two-year contract in March, hosted skill position players at his house in Miami and hardly seemed bothered by the team's decision to draft Pickett in late April.

And for all of the issues that cropped up during Trubisky's tenure in Chicago — some of them well out of his control — he had a 29-21 record as a starter and twice led the Bears to the playoffs, all things that made Trubisky “very attractive” to a team that has been a postseason fixture for the majority of the past 50 years.

Pickett did his best to apply pressure, playing well during the preseason on his way to supplanting Rudolph as the No. 2.

Tomlin said Pickett's learning curve accelerated during exhibition games, where he passed for 261 yards and three touchdowns without throwing an interception.

“I thought that he grew and grew at a really fast pace once we got in the stadiums,” Tomlin said. “And I also think it’s reasonable to expect that growth and development to continue as we push into the regular season.”

That development won't include — at least at the moment — having Pickett on the field in certain packages, something other teams like San Francisco have done with rookie first-round quarterbacks.

At least Pickett will be in uniform. Rudolph — who is 8-5 as a starter — will be inactive after Tomlin said the team will not dress a third quarterback. Tomlin made it a point to praise Rudolph's professionalism during the process and said the play of Rudolph, Pickett and Trubisky over the past six weeks helped a young offense get up to speed quickly.

“I thought all three of our quarterbacks represented themselves, us really, well through this process,” he said. “I thought they made plays. I thought they moved their units. I thought they took care of the football. So that made the (final decision) a challenging one.”

NOTE: Tomlin declined to offer specifics when asked if Pro Bowl WR Diontae Johnson (left shoulder) would be available for the opener. Johnson injured the shoulder while making a catch in the preseason finale against Detroit on Aug. 28.


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