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Pickett cleared, ready for Dolphins

Kenny Pickett was cleared by an independent neurologist on Friday and will start at quarterback in the Steelers' game Sunday night against the Miami Dolphins at Hard Rock Stadium.

Pickett returns after being placed in the NFL's concussion protocol following a hit from Tampa Bay's Devin White in the second half of the Steelers' 20-18 win over the Buccaneers at Acrisure Stadium.

He finished that game 11 of 18 for 67 yards and a touchdown. Mitch Trubisky entered the game after Pickett left and threw for 144 yards and a touchdown to help the Steelers snap a four-game losing streak and get to 2-4 entering their game against the Dolphins (3-3).

Pickett, who practiced fully all week, said he has no reservations regarding playing Sunday night.

"I went through it with the doctors and medical staff," Pickett said, noting this was the first time he's been in concussion protocols in his career in the NFL or in college at Pitt. "We have people fly in here to meet with these doctors, so I know they're the best in the country. I feel great where I'm at going into Sunday."

He'll be joined back in the lineup by tight end Pat Freiermuth and cornerback Levi Wallace, both of whom missed last Sunday's win over the Bucs after suffering concussions in the Steelers' loss two weeks ago at Buffalo. Both also were cleared to return Friday after also practicing all week.

"It's tough missing a game," Freiermuth said. "I'm a competitor and I wanted to be out there. For me, my family, the doctors said it wasn't safe to go out there and play. It was the right decision."

Freiermuth was in a different position, though, then Pickett. He said he didn't feel normal again until last Thursday as he went through concussion protocols. Pickett said he felt better very early in the week.

"One of the things going through it was just to keep doing what I've been doing and see how I feel after playing," Pickett said. "That was what they recommended. I felt great going through my routine. If I didn't, obviously I wouldn't have been out there. I was communicating with the doctors. I feel good."

What didn't necessarily feel good was not getting to finish what wound up being his first career victory as a starter. Pickett replaced Trubisky at halftime of the Steelers' loss three weeks ago against the Jets and made his first start against the Bills. But he also understands doctors were erring on the side of caution by not allowing him to return to the game.

"It happens. Adversity. Adversity all over the place. Inside of football, outside of football, it's just rolling with the punches and making sure I'll be ready to go this weekend," Pickett said.

"It's tough. You obviously want to be out there. You put a lot of work in throughout the week. You want to be out there and finish the game. But I trusted what the doctors were telling me. That's what they were advising me to do, what they wanted me to do. I followed their lead and now I'm ready to go this week. Had I finished that game, maybe I wouldn't have felt this great this week at practice."

But that game also offered the Steelers and their rookie quarterback something upon which to build.

After leading the Steelers to a field goal on the team's opening possession in the 38-3 loss to the Bills, the team didn't score again, despite moving the ball up and down the field. Last Sunday against the Bucs, the Steelers scored on their opening possession of the game, with Pickett throwing his first-career touchdown pass, a 6-yard toss to running back Najee Harris.

He'd like to continue building on that.

"We were moving the ball well. I loved the first drive we had," Pickett said. "That was a great tone-setter for the game, something really to build off of, starting fast. I felt we took advantage of what they were giving us early. I felt like we opened it up in the second half, which was awesome. It's something we can continue to improve on, hitting our shots early and being better in the red zone. I think there's a lot of positives to take from the game and move on. Most important, we got the win."

Adding another to the tally against the Dolphins has been the focus all this week. Like the Steelers, Miami also will have a quarterback returning from a concussion. Dolphins' quarterback Tua Tagovailoa will make his first start after missing the past two games with a concussion suffered in a Thursday night game against the Bengals.

That incident in a nationally televised game came after Tagovailoa had suffered a big hit that knocked him out of the Dolphins' game just four days before and drew a lot of attention to the NFL's concussion protocols. It also prompted some changes in the protocol itself.

So, Pickett understands why his situation has drawn so much interest this week.

"I'm sure naturally because of what happened around the league, people are looking at it more. I think every case is it's own and different," he said."

"You go through it, and if they say you can play, you play. If not, they're not going to let you do it."