Bengals Steelers Football

Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Kenny Pickett (8) looks to pass as Cincinnati Bengals cornerback Eli Apple (20) pursues during the first half of an NFL football game, Sunday, Nov. 20, 2022, in Pittsburgh. (AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar)

PITTSBURGH, Pa. – The Steelers held their first day of organized team activities (OTAs) on Tuesday, and unlike last season, there is no uncertainty about who the starting quarterback will be.

This is Kenny Pickett’s team now, though both Mitch Trubisky and Mason Rudolph return to back up the second-year signal caller.

Some notes and observations from the first day of OTAs:

• The Steelers made plenty of additions to the offense during the offseason, including signing guards Nate Herbig and Isaac Seumalo in free agency and trading for wide receiver Allen Robinson before selecting offensive tackle Broderick Jones, tight end Darnell Washington, and offensive lineman Spencer Anderson in the NFL Draft.

Pickett says the tools are there for the offense to succeed this year, after averaging just 18.1 points per game last season.

“We have the guys. We gotta go execute,” Pickett said. “At some point, it’s players on players, and we gotta step up and make plays.”

• Pickett’s work ethic and leadership has already set the standard for the team’s young offense. Wide receiver Calvin Austin III missed the entirety of his rookie season last year due to a foot injury, but says Pickett’s leadership is exactly what is necessary from a quarterback.

“He’s going to make sure you’re on your A game. Having a quarterback like that is what you want, cause he’s going to bring everybody else up with him,” Austin said. “You either got to be at his level or get left behind.”

• First-round pick Jones was seen getting a lot of attention from offensive line coach Pat Meyer at rookie minicamp earlier in the month, and that trend continued as OTAs got underway on Tuesday morning. Jones says he’s gotten a lot already from working with Meyer.

“Just having him detailing all the little things, it helps a lot,” Jones said. “I just take it all in and soak it all up.”

• Jones also said he’s connected with his veteran teammates, including the team’s two first-round picks before him in Pickett and running back Najee Harris.

“Those guys take me under their wing, teaching me the ropes of everything, of the way they do things around here, so it’s good,” Jones said.

• Pickett has bulked up since last season, when he played at just 213 pounds, which is lighter than his playing weight during college. The quarterback was determined to put on some weight following last season and is now at 226 pounds.

“It’s a long season and you’re taking a lot of shots, so I just want to have some more protection,” Pickett said. “The hits (in the NFL) are just a little bit different over a longer period of time. So being able to withstand the hits and if need be, deliver some hits if I have to go score, whatever it may be. Obviously, I kept my speed and just added a little bit of weight.”

• It’s no secret that Pickett had a rocky start to his NFL career after taking over for Trubisky at halftime in the Week 4 game against the New York Jets. However, Pickett showed noticeable progress as the season went on, leading the team on four fourth quarter, game-winning drives in the second half of the season, including throwing touchdown passes in the final minute against both the Las Vegas Raiders and the Baltimore Ravens.

Pickett says those situations helped him grow as a player.

“I think the big-time moments – the ones where the game is on the line, and you go to go out there and operate and guys got to get to their spot and do their job and I got to deliver the football,” Pickett said. “I think we did that towards the send of the season, and it was good to build on and finish the way we did. I think having that tape to look back at and watch and kind of grow from is crucial.”

• Pickett also responded to the comments former quarterback Ben Roethlisberger made on a recent episode of his “Footbahlin’” podcast on which Pickett was a guest. Roethlisberger said he initially wasn’t rooting for Pickett because he was concerned people would forget about him if Pickett was successful immediately. Pickett took no offense to Roethlisberger’s comments.

“He’s honest. He’s upfront about it. He’s a fan now and he’s pulling for us and it was really cool to hear him say that,” Pickett said.

Pickett also said he got to know his predecessor a little better during the taping of the podcast at Roethlisberger’s home and he believes their relationship will continue to grow.

“I think we’re just going to continue to build on that relationship and I’ll reach out if I have any questions,” Pickett said. “He said he’ll be texting me, so I’m excited to go into year two with another guy in my corner pulling for me.”

• Damontae Kazee is excited with the addition of Keanu Neal to the safety room. The two played together for four years with the Atlanta Falcons and one year with the Dallas Cowboys.

“I know what he brings and I’m looking forward to it. I hope everyone’s just going to wait and see what he’s going to bring. Everybody move out the way,” Kazee said with a laugh.

• Despite offensive coordinator Matt Canada saying during the draft that second-year tight end Connor Heyward would likely be used more as fullback this year, Heyward remained with the tight end group during Tuesday’s session.

• OTAs are voluntary, but most of the team was present. Three notable exceptions were outside linebacker T.J. Watt and defensive linemen Larry Ogunjobi and Armon Watts.

Amanda Filipcic-Godsey is a freelance writer in Pittsburgh. She covers Pittsburgh sports for CNHI Pa. newspapers. Follow her on Twitter @AmandaFGodsey.

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