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Tomlin Takes

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Excited for the growth

QB 1: A year ago, Coach Mike Tomlin was headed into the offseason with uncertainty at the quarterback position after the retirement of Ben Roethlisberger, but stated he was excited to see how things played out.

A year later it's a much different scenario at the quarterback spot, with rookie Kenny Pickett having a strong season after he stepped in as the starter in Week 5 against the Buffalo Bills.

With a year under his belt, Tomlin said the key now for Pickett is to keep moving forward. 

"Here in Pittsburgh, we value the growth that has the potential to happen between Year 1 and Year 2," said Tomlin. "It's natural. They're no longer speculating about what this is. They've had a lap around the track. They've been in some hot situations. They've had some positive results. They've had some negative results. They understand the totality of this in terms of the toll that it takes on them, mentally, physically, emotionally.

"I think all of those things that encompass the experience that is a rookie season is a good springboard to get better and to obviously do it with a quarterback, I'm really excited about that."

Pickett, the Steelers No. 1 pick in the 2022 NFL Draft, has established himself as the team's top quarterback, but when asked if that classifies him as the team's 'franchise quarterback,' Tomlin wasn't going there.

"You know, I don't know what you guys mean by franchise quarterback," said Tomlin. "Is he our QB1? Yes. But there's a lot of silly responsibility that comes with that term. Everybody thinks they've got one, but not everybody has one and all of that. He's our starting quarterback. I'm not going to saddle him with that cliche that's overused in our game, in our business too much these days."

The next step: Running back Najee Harris had his second straight 1,000-yard season, rushing for 1,038 yards in 2022. While the number was down from his 1,200-yard performance his rookie season, it was even more impressive as he dealt with injuries in training camp and through the season that had an impact on him.

"Certainly, the missed time in team development slowed him down," said Tomlin. "I don't know that he played in any preseason games and things of that nature.

"He's a young guy. The skill relative to his position needs to be developed and honed in an effort to be game ready. He got on a moving train. That was well documented. I thought he got better with each passing day.

"He's a mentally tough guy. He's a competitor. So, I just thought his play got consistently better throughout, but also kind of expected it to be based on those reasonable variables and circumstances."

It wasn't just his performance on the field that Tomlin took notice of. Harris was voted one of the team's offensive captains, along with Mitch Trubisky, and the second-year player stepped up big in the role and continued to grow in the role.

"In natural ways in all areas, but that's a reasonable expectation of a guy from Year 1 to Year 2, but it also speaks to who he is that he got elected captain in Year 2, and I think that with each passing day, he wore that in a more natural way," said Tomlin. "I think he always had a desire to do that and be what his team and his teammates needed him to be, but I think with each passing day, I think he just wore it the more natural way, and I think it's reasonable to expect it to continue."

Bright futures: The Steelers rookie class came through big for the Steelers in 2022, including quarterback Kenny Pickett, receiver George Pickens, running back Jaylen Warren, tight end Connor Heyward, defensive lineman DeMarvin Leal and linebacker Mark Robinson.

All of them made contributions at one point or another throughout the season, contributions that leave a bright outlook for their future.

"A lot of guys had an opportunity to have roles and increasingly significant roles," said Tomlin. "I'm thankful for their contributions, but I'm just beginning the process of going through it with a fine-tooth comb and assessing it in that way in terms of building their challenges individually for year two for them.

"But I will acknowledge, man, we've got some quality play from some young guys, which is exciting, but boy, there's a lot of meat on the bone, and we're excited about being a part of their process, too. That's another component of our business model that we don't run away from, we run to, the development of players. To be a component of their growth and development is significant for us and for them."

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