Mike Tomlin may know who his starting quarterback will be when the Pittsburgh Steelers take the field against the defending AFC champion Cincinnati Bengals on Sept. 11. He just isn’t ready to reveal it to the public.
Tomlin declined to name a starting quarterback on Tuesday, less than two weeks before Pittsburgh kicks off the regular season in Cincinnati. That doesn’t mean, however, that the decision hasn’t already been made in-house.
“Who said it isn’t settled,” Tomlin said, via Mark Kaboly of The Athletic.
Tomlin’s comments on Tuesday echoed his comments shortly following Sunday’s 19-9 win over Detroit in the preseason finale. Tomlin was asked after the game if he had a starting quarterback after watching Mitchell Trubisky, Kenny Pickett and Mason Rudolph compete throughout the summer and preseason.
“I might, but you guys are not going to have it today,” Tomlin said. “Again, like I told you guys the other week now we’re not gonna make knee-jerk reactions and statements following a performance. We’ll go through our proper professional procedure. We’ll evaluate the game. We’ll meet with our front office people. We’ll have discussions. We’ll talk internally. We’ll talk external possibilities. We’ll go through our normal procedure this time of year, and will disclose it to you at our leisure, to be quite honest with you.”
It has largely been assumed that Trubisky will be the Steelers’ starting quarterback when Pittsburgh opens the regular season. While that still appears to be the most realistic scenario, Pickett’s emergence over the past month has created rumblings about Trubisky’s perceived hold on the starting job. The 20th overall pick in April’s draft, Pickett threw three touchdowns against zero interceptions during the preseason while completing nearly 81% of his passes.
“I felt really comfortable,” Pickett said after Sunday’s game when he was asked about the difference in his comfort level between his first and final preseason game. “You can see, when the offense gets in a rhythm, we’re moving the ball, we’re having positive play after positive play. That’s always a good sign. We got some really good chunk plays today, but the big thing was the red zone. That’s something we’ve got to get better at. I think if those field goals are touchdowns. It’s a completely different game, obviously, and we’d put them away pretty early. So, that will be something to work on.”
Based on the chants when he entered Pittsburgh’s home games this preseason, Pickett would be the starting quarterback if Steelers fans had a say in the decision. Steelers fans have quickly embraced the former Pitt quarterback who last fall guided the Panthers to the program’s best season in 40 years.
“It’s awesome,” Pickett said of the fan support. “I have so much love for the city, and I really appreciate everything they’ve done for me (during) my college career, how they’ve greeted me in my early pro career here. It’s really unbelievable. A huge thank you and a lot of gratitude from myself, my family. Can’t thank the fans enough.”
While Pickett played well in the preseason, Trubisky also made his case to be the Steelers’ starting quarterback during Pittsburgh’s preseason finale. After settling for field goals despite being given exceptional field position from Pittsburgh’s defense on two occasions, Trubisky led the offense on a six-play, 92-yard drive that ended with a touchdown pass to Steven Sims just before halftime. The drive also included a 32-yard completion to tight Pat Freiermuth and a 22-yard completion to rookie receiver George Pickens.
“I think it was important to establish a rhythm and score points,” Trubisky said of the two-minute drive. “We wanted to come away with more touchdowns early on, but we settled for field goals, so we’ll look back and get better at that. But I think to finish with a touchdown was important. … It was good to go out there and and get a half in. I felt like we got more of a rhythm.”
The odd man out when it comes to the Steelers’ quarterback battle is Rudolph, Pittsburgh’s most tenured quarterback who attempted just three passes in Sunday’s preseason finale. While Rudolph does not appear to be the Steelers’ next starting quarterback, multiple reports have stated that the Steelers plan to keep the fourth-year veteran on the roster for the upcoming season. Keeping Rudolph would give Pittsburgh rare depth at football’s most important position.
By not revealing his starting quarterback, Tomlin is ultimately forcing the Bengals to prepare for multiple quarterbacks leading up to their Week 1 matchup. Conversely, the Steelers’ defense has surely begun preparations for their ensuing matchup with the quarterback that got the better of them during both of their meetings in 2021: Joe Burrow.