One of the NFL’s most intriguing quarterback battles may already be over.
Although Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin has yet to declare a starting quarterback for the Sept. 11 opener in Cincinnati, or even hint at the progress his QB room has made throughout the offseason program, Mitchell Trubisky is the clearcut frontrunner, according to The Athletic.
Trubisky reportedly has “a significant head start,” and the competition between him, Mason Rudolph and rookie Kenny Pickett “will be more for show” than substance.
The Steelers signed Trubisky, who previously backed up Josh Allen in a short stint with the Bills, in free agency. The Steelers then drafted Pickett out of University of Pittsburgh with the No. 20 overall pick in the 2022 NFL Draft. Rudolph has been a backup with Pittsburgh since the team selected him in the third round of the 2018 NFL Draft.
In a May interview with The Post, Steelers star running back Najee Harris praised Trubisky for his athleticism.
“It’s a good pickup,” said Harris. “He does a good job of extending plays. He uses his legs a lot. He’s actually fast too. He’s athletic.”
Trubisky’s arm strength down the field wasn’t on display much during Pittsburgh’s six OTA practices and three minicamp days, according to The Athletic — and when it was, he “wouldn’t have out-thrown” Ben Roethlisberger, who retired in January after 18 seasons as the Steelers’ starting quarterback.
“I’m preparing to be a starter,” said Trubisky, whose deep-ball chances were reportedly accurate. “I feel like, no matter what position you’re in, that’s the way you should prepare. I wouldn’t read too much into it, but I’m getting a lot of good reps. I feel comfortable in the offence. I feel very confident.”
Rudolph, who got all the second-team reps in Steelers’ offseason program, said he knows nothing about what Steelers brass is looking for in their QB1 in a post-Roethlisberger era.
Despite leading the second unit reps, The Athletic reported Rudolph looked the best of the four quarterbacks and moved with the ball well, while throwing consistently.
“I got a lot of high expectations for myself every day,” Rudolph said. “We had a couple of third-down periods (Wednesday) and moved the chains and gave our guys a chance to make some plays. I try not to get too far ahead because you don’t want to take for granted what’s in front of you.”
Pickett ran the third team and reportedly acclimatized well, due in part to similar language in the playbook from when offensive coordinator Matt Canada recruited Pickett to Pitt University.
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“I felt pretty good,” Pickett said. “They threw a lot at us, and tried to do the best I can of studying everything. There were a lot of installs, and I was trying to do my best to get ready every day. I feel good at where I am at.”
Steelers quarterbacks coach Mike Sullivan added that Pickett has been “working his tail off” and is “always in the office putting in the extra amount of time.”
“I think Coach has been very clear that Mitch is No. 1, working with the ones and doing a really good job with that,” Canada said. “Mason is No. 2, and Kenny is No. 3 and we are working that way based on experience, based on résumé. We have been clear that this has been a laid-out plan of how we are going to evolve and who our quarterback is going to be for the 2022 season.
“The plan is so clear that right now, we are just getting better and putting in our offense and putting in a lot of parts of our offense, and we are going to try to evolve and find who does this well, who does that well , who has this intangible thing, who has this tangible thing,” Canada continued.
“You have to find a way to get to who your starting quarterback is going to be, and we are being very fair in giving everybody an opportunity. Fair is not always equal, and we understand that. We want to find the guy, and for us, it is going to be the best guy. But what makes him the best? Taking care of the ball? Making plays in the red zone. Is it leading the team? … When it is time to play the Bengals, we will have a solid decision.”