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Steelers continue to prep for the unknown at QB

With starting quarterback Kenny Pickett still in concussion protocol and questions surrounding whether or not he'll be ready to play when the Steelers return to action Sunday against the Carolina Panthers at Bank of America Stadium, there are obviously a lot of questions swirling about what the team will do if Pickett isn't cleared.

That, according to Steelers offensive coordinator Matt Canada, is the obvious challenge to preparing a game plan this week.

But, Canada also feels good about the options for the Steelers (5-8) as the prepare to face the Panthers (5-8).

"We're fortunate to have a deep quarterback room," Canada said Thursday at the UPMC-Rooney Sports Complex. "We have guys who have all started. Mason (Rudolph) has started games. Mitch (Trubisky) has obviously started a lot of football games. Mason has started games for us in the past. You never want to be in this situation, but we're in as good a spot as we could be where we're at. We just have to proceed forward and get ready to play."

Which quarterback lines up under center for the Steelers remains the question.

Both Trubisky, the team's starter to open the season before ceding the spot to Pickett, the team's top pick in this year's draft, and Rudolph have gotten first-team reps with the offense.

But Canada said that's only natural considering Rudolph has served as the team's No. 3 quarterback and has primarily run the opposing team's offense on the scout team all season.

"Part of that is we're making sure we're in a situation where everybody's ready to play," Canada said. "We've had two quarterbacks playing all year and Mason has been a third and hasn't had a lot of reps at all. You want to prepare your football team to get ready to play. I don't think it's that abnormal to get them both ready, give them reps.

"We certainly don't want to have happen what happened on Sunday, what, on the fifth play of the game, our quarterback got banged out. It think it would be a disservice to everybody to have Mason come in and play not having had any reps."

Pickett suffered a concussion on a sack early in the first quarter of last Sunday's 16-14 loss to the Baltimore Ravens, giving way to Trubisky.

Trubisky completed 22 of 30 passes for 276 yards and a touchdown, but also threw three interceptions, all of which occurred inside the Baltimore 20 yard line.

The Steelers were 4 of 8 on third downs and averaged a season-high 6.2 yards per play in the game, but the red zone mistakes were huge.

"There are about six plays in there, the turnovers and a couple of third-down plays, that were ultimately the difference in the game," Canada said. "Other than that, we did move the ball well. The running game was OK at times. They're a very good run defense, as we all knew, so I don't think that was a big surprise. There were some positives. But ultimately, you don't get to do that. You don't get to say, 'These three third downs and these three turnovers,' you don't get to take those away.

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"That's not how it works. There are some positives, some things going the right way. We just have to eliminate those critical plays at critical times."

Regardless of who eventually winds up starting at quarterback Sunday, the ultimate job is to find a way to win.

That's what the focus for the Steelers remains, despite overall concern for Pickett. The concussion is his second this season.

"We can't worry about what he's going through," wide receiver Diontae Johnson said. "Obviously, he's our quarterback. You do have it in the back of your mind. But you've got to continue to prepare yourself. It doesn't matter who is at quarterback. They've got to prepare, as well, just like me.

"No matter who it is, I'm going to be ready. It doesn't matter who is throwing the ball, as long as you're making a play on the ball."