Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin declared that rookie starting quarterback Kenny Pickett is doubtful to play when the team takes the field Sunday at Bank of America Field in Charlotte, N.C., against the Carolina Panthers.
But Tomlin is not ready to say who might start for the Steelers in place of Pickett, who remains in concussion protocol but could receive some kind of clearance Saturday.
Pickett was a limited participant in practice on Friday, the Steelers' final day of full work in preparation to face the Panthers (5-8). And with the rookie limited all week long, Tomlin will likely make a choice between veterans Mitch Trubisky and Mason Rudolph when it comes to who will start for the Steelers (5-8) Sunday.
"He was a partial participant for most of the week," Tomlin said of Pickett Friday at the UPMC-Rooney Sports Complex. "There are procedural things regarding the protocol he is in. We'll get some clarity on that and other things tomorrow and we'll make statements regarding who is playing and who is not and the depth at that time. I listed him as doubtful. That's appropriate as we sit here today.
"We've got some clarity where we're going. There's just no need to land the plane until it's required to land the plane. I like the work we've gotten from Mitch and Mason this week. Both guys have split reps and seen enough situations, not only what they've done this week, but the totality of what they've done. I'm just really comfortable considering both guys. We're comfortable."
This is the second time this season Pickett has landed in the NFL's concussion protocol. But unlike when Pickett was in the protocol following a Week 6 win over Tampa Bay, the rookie has not been able to partake in a full practice.
Trubisky replaced Pickett in the first quarter of last Sunday's 16-14 loss to the Baltimore Ravens and threw for 276 yards and one touchdown, but also threw three interceptions.
Trubisky began the season as the team's starting quarterback before giving way to Pickett, the Steelers' first-round draft pick, while Rudolph has been inactive for all 13 games as the team's third quarterback.
But the two split first-team reps and also ran some of the scout team looks this week with Pickett largely sidelined.
"It was unique. We got a lot of work in, that's for sure, splitting the 1 reps and doing some scout team," Trubisky said Friday. "It was a good week of competition. I felt good about our preparation. Everybody was locked in across the board. It was a good work week, and whatever coach decides, we're going to roll with and look for an opportunity to bounce back and get this team back on the right track."
The Steelers will have their final walk-through Saturday before leaving for Charlotte, and at that point Tomlin could inform the team of who will start at quarterback. Or, he might not.
"Before the game starts," Trubisky said of when he would need to know. "We'll see how much of a secret he wants to keep it. We're ready. I'm ready. I'm looking forward to the opportunity. We take care of the football, we'll move it. If all the guys do their job, play together, I feel good about this week."
If it is Trubisky, he knows he has to take better care of the football than he did against the Ravens.
"I made some great throws out there," Trubisky said of his play in that game. "We moved the football up and down the field. But obviously I've got to take care of the football, especially down in the red zone. I'm looking forward to bouncing back this week and getting that opportunity."
Trubisky hasn't started a game since a Week 4 loss at Acrisure Stadium against the Jets. But he did come in and play in relief of Pickett in the Week 6 win over the Buccaneers and again last week. He has completed 63.3 percent of his passes this season for 1,073 yards with four touchdown passes and five interceptions.
Rudolph, meanwhile, hasn't played at all this season, but is 5-4-1 as a starter in his five seasons with the Steelers. He last started a game Nov. 14, 2021, against the Detroit Lions when Ben Roethlisberger sat out while in COVID-19 protocols. Rudolph completed 30 of 50 passes for 242 yards with one touchdown and one interception in the 16-16 tie.
Regardless of which quarterback starts, they'll have the support of the other.
"No matter what your role is, you continue to prepare with the game plan, helping guys any way you can. And when we make the decision, you roll with it," Trubisky said.
"The quarterbacks have gotten really close over the year, so we were just supporting each other. We'll see where it takes us. I thought we all had a great week of practice."