Kenny Pickett taking third-string reps with Steelers, wants to 'earn everything I get'

PITTSBURGH -- Kenny Pickett didn’t expect to be given the starting quarterback job from the minute the Pittsburgh Steelers selected him with the No. 20 overall pick.

And it’s a good thing, because through the first four voluntary OTA practices open to the media, Pickett has been running with the third-string offense.

“It’s kind of what I was expecting, just come in here and earn everything I get,” Pickett said Tuesday. “It’s kind of how it goes in life and in the game. I’m excited to be here.”

Entering the second week of OTAs, Pickett is taking reps behind free-agency addition Mitch Trubisky and Mason Rudolph, who backed up the retired Ben Roethlisberger last season.

"I'm just out there and [going to] go where they tell me," Trubisky, who worked with the first team, told reporters last week. "We're just competing. Whoever was out there first, take your reps. We're here to build and get better every day. We're going to get reps with everybody at some point, so it's about doing your best work on the field and competing."

Listed first on the Steelers’ depth chart prior to free agency, Rudolph has been working with the second string.

“Just cause I was probably the only quarterback on the roster,” Rudolph said with a laugh last week. “Each year since I’ve been here, there’s been competition, there’s been guys. With the opportunity to play this year, everyone is going to be competing and trying to put their best foot forward. I’m approaching it with the same mindset I had the last four years. Every single day, every single rep I get, try to make the most of it. Get better.”

For Pickett, the rotation reminds him of competing for the starting job as a true freshman next door at Pitt. In that competition, Pickett initially lost out to senior Max Browne and redshirt sophomore Ben DiNucci, but he earned playing time in four games because of injuries to the pair. He finished with a start in the season finale against then-No. 2 Miami, where he scored three touchdowns en route to an upset victory against the undefeated Hurricanes.

“It’s the same thing, just competing and trying to be as prepared as I can be,” Pickett said. “So I’m familiar with it, I’m enjoying it.”

This time around, Pickett has the advantage of learning from Trubisky and Rudolph, who each bring their own experiences to the position. Trubisky, a former No. 2 overall pick by the Chicago Bears, was a four-year starter before backing up Josh Allen in Buffalo last season. Rudolph, meanwhile, has four seasons in Pittsburgh under his belt and started eight games in 2019 after Roethlisberger’s season-ending elbow surgery.

“No better guys to learn [from] than the guys who are here that have either done it or I’m trying to learn from,” Pickett said. “I’m asking Mitch and Mason as many questions as I can. Me and Chris (Oladokun) are attached at the hip really all day.

“It’s not a formal sit-down, ‘Hey man, can you give me all the secrets?’ It’s just, we’re going through plays and it’s why did you do this, what did you see here, all little things like that. We’re working together. Everyone is getting better. It’s good competition.”

Like Pickett, Trubisky said he welcomes the competition.

"I knew coming into the situation that I would have to come in, compete and earn the trust of my teammates,” Trubisky said last week, adding the Steelers didn’t tell him they were drafting Pickett. “I have to get back onto the field with hard work, my talent and being a leader on this team.”

Though he was working with the third-string offense in team-like periods, Pickett had an opportunity to throw to wide receiver Diontae Johnson for the first time. Johnson, entering the final year of his rookie contract, wasn’t present for the first week of voluntary OTAs.

“You can see off the bat how special a player he is,” Pickett said of Johnson. “I’m really excited to get more time to work with him and see what I can do to help his game elevate.”

And while he continues to get familiar with his teammates on the field, he's also working to learn everyone's names off it.

"Been making good strides there," he said with a laugh. "I get here pretty early. It’s usually the same crew I’m with for breakfast, but lunch, I get 15 minutes to grab a lunch and lift and go meet. That’s the time I’m trying to learn everybody’s name."