Kenny Pickett using Steelers rookie minicamp as foundation to compete for starting QB job


Forgive Kenny Pickett if he didn’t get caught up in the excitement Thursday night surrounding the release of the Pittsburgh Steelers schedule for the upcoming season.

The team’s first-round draft pick had other, more pressing matters on his mind.

Such as studying the playbook in preparation for his first official practice Friday morning with his NFL employer.

“I can’t tell you who we are playing at all,” Pickett said with a smile. “I just did the first install walkthrough. We have a long time until then.”

That Sept. 11 opener at Cincinnati against the AFC champion Bengals, after all, is four months away. Still, Pickett is aware that what transpires on the practice field — and in his classroom work — between now and then will help determine whether he is under center as the starting quarterback in Cincinnati or standing on the sidelines as the No. 2 or No. 3 option on the depth chart.

The former Pitt quarterback and Heisman Trophy finalist began his indoctrination into the Steelers’ way Friday with the first day of rookie minicamp. He was among 51 rookies, first-year players and tryout candidates on hand at UPMC Rooney Sports Complex.

Pickett and seventh-round pick Chris Oladokun were the only quarterbacks on the practice field. Pickett plans to use the weekend to build a foundation so he can compete with veterans Mason Rudolph and Mitch Trubisky in training camp and the preseason.

“I have no shot if I don’t know what I’m doing,” Pickett said. “It’s just dedicating myself to the playbook and learning every detail I possibly can to give ourselves the best shot to operate out here. I want to have a smooth practice with these guys, and hopefully everybody looks good.”

Pickett couldn’t calculate the number of hours he spends each day studying the playbook, but it’s safe to say they are numerous.

“It’s until I feel comfortable with it,” he said. “It’s studying here. We get let out, and I go back to the hotel and have the iPad out. It’s doing as much as I can to feel good out here so I can play fast.”

Since being drafted two weeks ago, Pickett has been in contact with Trubisky and Rudolph. He also received a call from his predecessor, Ben Roethlisberger, whose retirement led to the Steelers drafting Pickett with the No. 20 overall pick.

“He said he’s always there for me if I have any questions, advice,” Pickett said. “He’s an unbelievable player, a Hall of Famer. He’s a guy I definitely will use as a resource in the coming weeks here.”

Pickett didn’t describe his first official day on the job as overwhelming although he admitted to not knowing the names of many of his teammates.

“I want to call guys out to talk and to help them, and I have no clue who I’m talking to,” Pickett said. “At lunch, I’ll handle that.”

Among the receivers he had at his disposal were second-round draft pick George Pickens and fourth-rounder Calvin Austin III.

“I feel like we will work very, very well,” Pickens said. “Very compatible, for sure.”

At the 75-minute morning walkthrough, Pickett didn’t hesitate to take charge in the huddle or correct mistakes that he saw on the field.

“Just being myself,” he said. “I know how to operate. I know what it’s supposed to look like at a high level. If it’s not that, I voice that opinion so we try to get on the same page. It’s Day 1, but there are little things I can help guys out with, communication, stuff like that. As the walkthrough went, it got cleaner.”

If Pickett can keep cleaning up mistakes, he could challenge for a starting job in the summer. First, he must navigate this rookie camp, which will be followed by organized team activities and minicamp.

“I know what I have to do,” he said. “I have to know the responsibilities of everyone else on the offense and learn the new defenses that are in the NFL. There is a lot that goes into it. I’m excited to dedicate myself to it, obsess over trying to be the best that I can be and learning as much as I can.”

Joe Rutter is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Joe by email at or via Twitter .

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