Pickett, Cole win team awards

It's the time of year when honors are handed out at the UPMC Rooney Sports Complex and that was the case when quarterback Kenny Pickett and center Mason Cole were both honored by the Pittsburgh Chapter of Pro Football Writers of America. Pickett won the Joe Greene Great Performance Award while Cole is the winner of 'The Chief' Award.

The Joe Greene Great Performance Award was established in 1984 and named after the legendary Hall of Famer and presented each year to the Steelers' top rookie.

Pickett is the third Steelers quarterback to win the award, joining Kordell Stewart, who won it in 1995 and Ben Roethlisberger, who won it in 2004.

"It's a huge honor," said Pickett. "I am extremely grateful. There is work still to do. I came in with an unbelievable rookie class and I'm on an unbelievable team. I couldn't have picked a better place to join."

Pickett, the Steelers No. 1 pick in the 2022 NFL Draft out of the University of Pittsburgh, stepped in as the team's quarterback at halftime of the Week 4 game against the New York Jets and hasn't looked back.

He has completed 232 of 360 pass attempts for 2,209 yards and six touchdowns in 12 games, starting 11 of them. He has also carried the ball 52 times for 236 yards and three touchdowns, including mastering the quarterback sneak.

The other thing he has mastered as of late is fourth quarter game-winning drives, coming through with back-to-back efforts the last two weeks. In doing so, Pickett became the first rookie in NFL history to have a game-winning touchdown pass in the final minute in back-to-back games.

In Week 16, Pickett led the Steelers to a 13-10 win over the Raiders on a fourth quarter drive that ended with a 14-yard touchdown pass to George Pickens. The Steelers got the ball back with 2:55 on the clock and down 10-6, when Pickett engineered a 10-play, 76-yard drive, completing seven passes for 75 yards and on fourth-and-one getting the yard himself on a quarterback sneak to set up the touchdown.

And he did it with confidence.

"I imagine he was born with it," said Coach Mike Tomlin. "I know that it's not the first time I've seen it. I know it's not the first time that people from Western Pa. have seen it. We've seen him do it next door (at the University of Pittsburgh). I think that's why we have such a great deal of comfort in his intangible quality and from a draft-evaluation perspective. We were in close proximity to it. And when you're in close proximity to it, it becomes less intangible. You can almost feel it. It is real. I don't think any of us are surprised by it."

Against the Ravens in Week 17, Pickett took the Steelers on an 11-play, 80-yard drive, in 3:20 that culminated in a 10-yard touchdown pass to Najee Harris. He showed veteran poise, with no panic at all, completing a 20-yard pass to tight end Pat Freiermuth and a 28-yard strike to Steven Sims on the drive.

"Can't say enough about our young QB," said Tomlin after the Ravens' game. "He smiles in the face of it. He's always ready to be that guy in the moments that we need him to be that guy. And it's just good to see the young guy."

Pickett, though, deflects the praise elsewhere.

"It's the same every time," said Pickett. "It's just that everyone has to do their job. I've got to find a way to get the guys the ball and get in the end zone. So, it's a team effort, a group effort."

Pickett made his first NFL start against the Buffalo Bills in Week 5 and set team records for most pass attempts (34), completions (52) and passing yards (327) by a quarterback in their Steelers starting debut. He became only the fourth rookie quarterback to pick up a win in his first home start, Week 6 vs. Tampa Bay, since the 1970 AFL-NFL merger.

He has found success since he stepped into the starting role, becoming the first rookie quarterback since the 1970 AFL-NFL merger to win four plus games and throw fewer than two interceptions over the course of November and December.

Joe Greene Great Performance Award Recipients
1984 - Louis Lipps, WR
1985 - Harry Newsome, P
1986 - Anthony Henton, LB
1987 - Delton Hall, CB
1988 - Warren Williams, RB
1989 - Carnell Lake, S
1990 - Eric Green, TE
1991 - Adrian Cooper, TE
1992 - Darren Perry, FS
1993 - Chad Brown, LB
1994 - Bam Morris, RB
1995 - Kordell Stewart, QB
1996 - Jon Witman, FB
1997 - Chad Scott, CB
1998 - Alan Faneca, OG
1999 - Troy Edwards, WR
2000 - Dan Kreider, FB
2001 - Kendrell Bell, LB
2002 - Kendall Simmons, OG
2003 - Troy Polamalu, S
2004 - Ben Roethlisberger, QB
2005 - Heath Miller, TE
2006 - Santonio Holmes, WR
2007 - Daniel Sepulveda, P
2008 - Patrick Bailey, LB
2009 - Mike Wallace, WR
2010 - Maurkice Pouncey, C
2011 - Marcus Gilbert, OT
2012 - Mike Adams, OT
2013 - Le'Veon Bell, RB
2014 - Martavis Bryant, WR
2015 - Bud Dupree, LB
2016 - Sean Davis, S
2017 - JuJu Smith-Schuster, WR
2018 - Terrell Edmunds, S
2019 - Devin Bush, LB
2020 - Chase Claypool, WR
2021 - Najee Harris, RB
2022 - Kenny Pickett, QB

'The Chief' Award, which was established in 1988 in honor of Steelers' founder, Arthur J. Rooney, Sr., is presented annually to a member of the Steelers' organization that best exemplifies the spirit of cooperation with the media that he embodied.

Cole signed with the Steelers this offseason as an unrestricted free agent and took over the starting center job and starting all 16 games to date.

The minute he signed, he embraced the Steelers culture and what it means to wear the black and gold.

"Growing up a football fan you know about Pittsburgh, the Steelers, and what it means to play for this team and help them win games," said Cole back in March. "I've always said if you are good at this game, it will be good to you. If you are good to this city, it will be good to you. I am excited to embrace this city, organization, and be a part of this culture, town. Coming here you can feel the culture and history of this organization."

Cole was called a 'hub of communication' by Coach Tomlin earlier this season and truly has been that in the locker room for the media. He is available on a daily basis, never saying no when approached and always providing insightful answers.

It's a carry over to the type of leader he is on the field, leading by example and trying to set the standard.

"For me it's mostly by example," said Cole of his leadership. "Sometimes there are things that need to be said. I am not a huge rah-rah guy. These guys don't need to be fired up. They understand how important this game is, how hard it is. There are times you have to talk. But it's mostly by example. How you are as a professional. How you attack each day. How you attack each game, play one play at a time, and move on. That is huge.

"I think especially at the center position, it's important for you to be the soul and heartbeat of that line. You are trying to control what these guys are doing at all times. It naturally happens that way. As the years have gone on in the league, I have become more comfortable with that role. We have a lot of leaders on the line. James (Daniel) does a great job. Chuks (Chukwuma Okorafor) does a great job. There is not a lot that needs to be said because these guys are professionals. Anything I can do to help these guys and be an example I try to do."

'The Chief' Award Recipients
1988 - Dan Rooney
1989 - Dwayne Woodruff
1990 - Merril Hoge
1991 - Gerald Williams
1992 - Tunch Ilkin
1993 - D.J. Johnson
1994 - Rod Woodson
1995 - Levon Kirkland
1996 - Chad Brown
1997 - Darren Perry
1998 - Jerome Bettis
1999 - Lee Flowers
2000 - Jerome Bettis & Deshea Townsend
2001 - Lee Flowers
2002 - Hines Ward
2003 - Mike Logan
2004 - Jerome Bettis
2005 - Alan Faneca
2006 - Brett Keisel & Deshea Townsend
2007 - Alan Faneca
2008 - Ryan Clark
2009 - James Farrior
2010 - Ben Roethlisberger
2011 - James Farrior
2012 - Casey Hampton
2013 - Ike Taylor
2014 - Cameron Heyward
2015 - Ramon Foster
2016 - Arthur Moats
2017 - David DeCastro
2018 - Joe Haden
2019 - Cameron Heyward
2020 - Ben Roethlisberger
2021 - Cameron Heyward
2022 - Mason Cole