LATROBE, Pa. – This is shaping up to be a pretty big week for Kenny Pickett.
The Steelers' first-round pick in the 2022 NFL Draft has been the second quarterback in the three-man rotation during team drills all this week, and after Tuesday's padded practice he won the Steelers Home Run Derby staged on the baseball field at Saint Vincent College. Pickett, a high school baseball player, received a Steelers bat as a "trophy," and posed with Coach Mike Tomlin for a photo posted on Tomlin's Instagram account.
The Home Run Derby has been an annual end-of-camp tradition that is more about some fun and breaking the monotony than a cut-throat competition, and its significance pales in comparison to what has been happening on the practice field and what Tomlin indicated will happen on Saturday night in Jacksonville.
As previously mentioned, Pickett has been following Mitch Trubisky onto the field for team drills throughout this week, and after Wednesday's padless practice Tomlin said that will carry over into the game vs. the Jaguars on Saturday at 7 p.m.
"You know, that's preparation more than anything," said Tomlin. "He's going to get some reps in more varsity-like action in this game (in Jacksonville) in an effort to get to know him and see how he fares, and what he's doing out here in practice is just preparing for that."
While there hasn't seemed to have been much drop-off in Mason Rudolph's play in practice during this week, and Rudolph did post a rating of 100.1 last Saturday in the preseason opener vs. Seattle, Pickett has been consistent in putting out quality work all week.
On one play during the "pass under pressure" period on Wednesday, Pickett escaped the pocket and gave a quick hand signal to Gunner Olszewski to break off his route and go deep. Olszewski reacted and turned upfield and he was there to haul in Pickett's perfectly placed throw for a nice gain down the field.
Later in practice, Pickett made a quality NFL-caliber throw on a well-timed and accurate pass on a comeback route all the way across the field to Steven Sims.
For his part, Rudolph was matching Pickett throw-for-throw, nice play-for-nice play, through much of the afternoon.
In the same period during which Pickett and Olszewski executed the scramble drill, Rudolph cocked his arm but then waited for Miles Boykin to clear the underneath coverage and get into an open area in the middle of the field before delivering a perfect strike. A couple of plays later, Rudolph made a nice throw to complete a pass to Cody White. Later in the afternoon, Rudolph was right on the money on a deep post pattern in which he hit White in stride for a 40-plus yard gain.
Possibly the only thing that separated Pickett and Rudolph on Wednesday were the couple of mishandled snaps from center by Rudolph, but whether the culpability for that rested with the center or the quarterback will have to be determined after video review.
• While special teams was going through a session on an adjacent field, the quarterbacks gathered with the receivers for a little bit of pitch-and-catch where the balls were thrown purposely to a place where the receivers had to reach for them and catch them in their hands as opposed to against their body. Joining the drill, and catching every ball thrown to them, were Minkah Fitzpatrick and Cam Sutton.
• Najee Harris did a good bit of solo work before the rest of the players came down to the field for the scheduled start of the practice. During that time, and then when he participating in team drills, Harris was cutting sharply and showing a nice burst each time he was handed the ball. There doesn't seem to be any lingering impact of the foot injury he sustained early in camp.
• Robert Spillane dropped into zone coverage, read the route and got in position to intercept a pass thrown by Mitch Trubisky.
• On the final play of practice, rookie inside linebacker Mark Robinson dropped an interception that hit him right in the hands. He immediately went to the ground and did the push-ups that serve as punishment for a player who drops a ball like that.
TOMLIN'S INJURY UPDATE
"From a health standpoint, Isaiahh Loudermilk wasn't able to finish with a rib injury of some kind that's being evaluated. No steps backward for the people who are working in an increased manner in an effort to get back to us, and so we're excited about that trajectory. We're gonna need all hands on deck this weekend in Jacksonville." Benny Snell was a full participant on Tuesday after missing the first two practices of the week.
The final practice open to the public will be at 1:55 p.m. on Thursday at Saint Vincent College. It is scheduled to be a padded practice. The Steelers will hold a walk-through on Friday before breaking camp and heading to Pittsburgh and then the airport for the flight to Jacksonville for Saturday night's game.