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Pickett confident, ready for first-career start

The Steelers are massive underdogs heading to Buffalo this Sunday to take on the Bills in what will be rookie quarterback Kenny Pickett's first career start.

But despite being a two-touchdown underdog, Pickett has a quiet confidence to how he's handling the whole situation.

Maybe that's because he's been in this situation before. The former Pitt quarterback and first-round pick of the Steelers this year was a double-digit underdog in his first collegiate start, as well, when the Panthers traveled to Miami to take on the 10-0 Hurricanes in late November of 2017.

Pickett threw for 193 yards and a touchdown as Pitt handed Miami its first loss of the season, 24-14.

"It's the attitude with which you go about it," Pickett said Wednesday at the UPMC-Rooney Sports Complex. "Everybody else thinks we're underdogs. We don't. We're going to go in there with some confidence. We know how great we can be when we're detailed and we execute at a high level. That's something we need to take care of during the week or we won't have a shot.

"It's the details, the little things, guys running at the right depth, I've got to be on time, give them a great ball and they'll make the plays. The line has been doing a great job all year, so I have a ton of confidence in those guys. It's everyone doing their 1/11th and we'll be OK."

The firm belief in himself is one of the reasons why the Steelers made Pickett the 20th pick in this year's draft and the only quarterback selected in the first round.

But it's his confidence and demeanor in the huddle that gives head coach Mike Tomlin the confidence to turn things over to the 24-year-old rookie for his first start in what should be a very hostile environment.

As Tomlin said Tuesday at his press conference, Pickett won't be graded on a curve because he's a rookie making his first career start. Nor does Pickett expect that.

"We're optimistic and thoughtful in our thought process," Tomlin said. "We believe in Kenny. We're getting ready to play this week and we're singularly focused on preparing for and ultimately playing a good game and winning up there in Buffalo, and really don't have a lot of thoughts beyond that."

But it did offer more reps in practice on Wednesday as the Steelers began their preparation to play the Bills. In the first four weeks of the season, Mitch Trubisky took most of the first-team snaps, with Pickett getting a handful and then running the scout team. Wednesday, that situation was flipped.

"Going from no reps to getting reps and having time with these guys, this is really valuable for me for all of us to be on the same page," Pickett said.

And it should lead to Pickett being even more ready to play than he was a week ago, though his mental preparation didn't change. Pickett entered last Sunday's 24-20 loss to the New York Jets at halftime and complete 10 of 13 passes for 120 yards. He rushed for two touchdowns but also threw three interceptions.

But after watching the game tape, he was pleased with his overall play.

"I was happy with the decisions I made," Pickett said. "Obviously, you strive to be perfect, but there are always going to be things you take away. I feel like I took away the right things and I'm going to be good going into this week."

And he'll still have Trubisky's experience on which to lean.

Pickett said he and Trubisky have spoken about the situation and they're in a good place with their friendship. Trubisky obviously wasn't happy with being benched, but he's not allowing it to affect the friendship the two have developed.

"Mitch is one of the best teammates I've come across," Pickett said. "I'm extremely grateful to have him in this room. I supported him a ton when he was in there and he'll do the same for me. That will continue. We're definitely great friends, on the field and off the field. That's going to be someone I'm going to lean on throughout this experience and he's been nothing but great to me."

And now it's just about finding a way to help the Steelers win a game and break their current three-game losing streak.

Pickett has the swagger and determination a lot of top quarterbacks seem to possess, as evidenced by his jawing back and forth with Jets defensive tackle Quinnen Williams last Sunday after Williams laid the quarterback out on a completion down the middle to tight end Pat Freiermuth.

It's all in good fun. And Pickett has a competitive fire that burns brightly.

"I'm competitive and I'm not the nicest guy, so I like to say some stuff. But it's all fun," he said. "I like to compete. I think the first hit makes you feel good and you're ready to go.

"I love to play. I grew up playing defense. I was taught to play that way. I was raised that way and carry it into how I play quarterback. I kept that aspect from both sides of the ball from my dad when I was playing on offense."

Winning would help that.

Tomlin said he inserted Pickett at halftime last week to give the Steelers a spark offensively. He's sticking with him because he feels the rookie will give the team the best chance of winning this game.

But Pickett knows he doesn't have to play outside of himself. He can't try to do too much.

"I want to raise the level of play of everyone around me, but we have so many great players," Pickett said. "I've got to do my job. I have 100 percent trust and confidence that every guy in that huddle will do their job. I was just raised that way. Everyone has to just own their business and own their job, and we'll be alright."