From the Press Room: Steelers at Bucs

Seeing what he wanted to see: Quarterback Kenny Pickett saw action in only one series in the 27-17 win over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in the preseason opener, but that is all Coach Mike Tomlin needed to see out of his starter.

Pickett looked strong and was in sync with his receivers, completing six of seven passes for 70 yards, which included a 33-yard touchdown pass to George Pickens.

"I thought we saw some things we wanted to see tonight," said Tomlin. "The first unit offense, Kenny spread the ball around. Kept himself clean. Moved the group. We were able to check that box and get them a quality rep in the process."

It wasn't just about numbers and on-field play, though. For Tomlin, it was about the overall experience of the first preseason games for young players, getting them accustomed to what the routine is, from time at the hotel to time on the field.

"Things that they did at the hotel. The procedural things they did leading up to play," said Tomlin. "They're young guys, but they have some experience now. We asked them to maybe step outside of themselves in the lead up to performance and get a feel for the group. What does the process of the group's preparation looks like. 

"Enjoyed that. I think it teed up the performance you saw."

Tomlin liked the play of some of his younger players, including receiver Calvin Austin III, who pulled in a 67-yard touchdown pass from Mason Rudolph, and Anthony McFarland, who had a 14-yard touchdown run.

He also liked the play of rookie linebacker Nick Herbig, who had two sacks, and defensive lineman Keeanu Benton.

"They were young guys who I thought stood out," said Tomlin. "But there is a lot of teaching and learning that needs to happen based on the result of what just happened. I think it's reasonable to expect us to be significantly better next week. This experience of having been in a stadium and an environment like this, if we don't use it for a catalyst to work next week and get better, then shame on us. I am excited about that."

Another young player Tomlin liked what he saw from was first-round draft pick Broderick Jones.

"Gave him a big exposure," said Tomlin. "I like his demeanor. I like how he finished. We'll comb through it specifically and look at hand usage and how he mixed up his protections and some of the things that are very technical that are major components of this level of play."

Checking all the boxes: Quarterback Kenny Pickett and the first-team offense were close to perfect for openers.

Pickett directed a 10-play, 83-yard touchdown drive in 5:14 the first time the Steelers got their hands on the football, his only series in Friday night's preseason-opening, 27-17 victory over the Buccaneers at Raymond James Stadium. 

Head coach Mike Tomlin had said the plan would be to give Pickett what he needed in terms of playing time in the preseason opener.

It played out that way in Pickett's estimation. 

"Yeah, I think we accomplished what we wanted to do," he said. "Go out there and spread the ball around, get different guys touches and go down there and get a scoring drive.

"Kind of checked all the boxes and that's what we needed."

Pickett completed six of seven attempts on the Steelers' first-possession scoring march, including a 33-yard touchdown pass to wide receiver George Pickens. Pickett's only incompletion came on a short pass thrown under duress to running back Jaylen Warren.

Pickett completed both of his attempts on third downs. He found wide receiver Diontae Johnson for 11 yards on third-and-10 from the Steelers' 31-yard line and Pickens for the touchdown on third-and-8 from the Buccaneers' 33.

Pickens hauled in Pickett's pass at the 21, pulled away from diving cornerback Zyon McCollum, cut outside and then cut back inside and past safety Nolan Turner on the way to the end zone.

Pickett connected with Johnson (three times), Pickens, tight end Pat Freiermuth and running back Najee Harris, although the sideways dump to Harris wound up losing 1 yard.

"Eighty-eight (Freiermuth) got a touch, so did 'Naj' (Harris) and, obviously, George scored, 'Tae' (Johnson) had a couple touches," Pickett noted.

"We spread the ball around well, guys made plays. That was really what we were looking to do."

Pickett completed passes in and out of the pocket and on the run.

"The extending (plays) stuff is all just kind of what happens in the pocket, and then you make plays on the move," Pickett said.

"But getting the ball out quick and getting guys touches was the point of emphasis, I would say."

It was the start Pickett and the Steelers were hoping for but it was just a start.

"I'm not going to look too much into it," he said. "Obviously, it's preseason, it's pretty vanilla football. But it was really good to go out there and score and get different guys looks, things that we've worked on.

"It was a good drive. I'm not gonna look too much into it, though."

It felt good: Linebacker Elandon Roberts is in his eighth NFL season, but his first in the black and gold after signing with the Steelers this offseason as an unrestricted free agent.

Roberts spent the past three seasons with the Miami Dolphins after spending the first four years of his career with the New England Patriots.

Putting the black and gold on tonight though, it just felt right to him.

"Coming into the game it just felt good to be in a Pittsburgh uniform," said Roberts. "Putting the jersey on felt good."

Roberts saw limited action, starting but like many starters not seeing many snaps. The snaps he did see were valuable for him just to get back in the groove.

"Once the game got started, limited snaps," said Roberts. "But it was basically time to get in game mode, from a study standpoint, adjustment standpoint. When I wasn't in, I was able to go to the sidelines, be with the linebackers, be with the defense and seeing the type of adjustments we were making, being engaged in the game, seeing what type of game Tampa wanted it to be. Just getting in my routine of a game time situation. Action wise, it was limited snaps, but just being engaged, taking a lot of mental reps. I was in tune in the game into the fourth quarter."

Being in tune was something that was key for him early on especially as he was wearing the green dot for the defense, calling the plays.

"It was calm. One thing about us, everybody has been in the situation," said Roberts. "One thing that Mike T(omlin) and the coaching staff do a great job of is putting us in the situations in practice. Once the game time came, it was just fluid. We all have to be calm and do our job, communicate well. That is first and foremost. We have to get the call in, communicate well, so all the other guys can play fast, because they are depending on us."

Game action photos from the Week 1 preseason game at the Tampa Bay Buccaneers at Raymond James Stadium

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