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Pickett unconcerned with pressure to succeed

Heading into his second season, there's a lot of pressure on Steelers quarterback Kenny Pickett.

No matter what outlet you happen to look at, radio show you're listening to or show you're watching, when the talk turns to the Steelers, the focus of the topic always turns to Pickett taking a big step forward when it comes to the team having success in 2023.

Pickett doesn't allow that to faze him. In fact, he welcomes that spotlight and scrutiny.

"I'm an NFL quarterback, that's what comes with it," Pickett said Wednesday at Saint Vincent College as he and the rest of the Steelers reported for training camp. "I'm used to it. I've been playing this position for a long time, so I'm excited to get back out there."

Pressure, it seems, is only troublesome if you allow it to be.

Pickett is doing what he dreamed of doing his entire life, so he doesn't feel pressured in any way.

Steelers players arrive at Saint Vincent College ready to start camp

"I think it's in my blood. This is all I've ever wanted to do in my life," he said. "I'm right where I want to be. I feel at home being here and playing this position, especially in this city. There's just something about it. I feel like I'm in the right spot."

The Steelers certainly hope that's the case.

They selected the former Pitt star in the first round of the 2022 NFL Draft with the 20th-overall selection, but didn't immediately install him as the starter.

At training camp a year ago, he was No. 2 on the depth chart behind veteran Mitch Trubisky. But four games into the season, head coach Mike Tomlin made the decision to elevate Pickett to the top role.

There were bumps along the road, as Pickett threw just two touchdown passes and had eight interceptions in his first five NFL games.

But following the team's Week 9 bye, Pickett and the Steelers hit their stride. Though he missed all of one game and most of another with a concussion, Pickett threw five touchdown passes and just one interception in his final seven starts in which he completed the game. The Steelers went 6-1 in those games to rebound from a 2-6 start to finish 9-8.

Along the way, Pickett led three fourth quarter comebacks and orchestrated four game-winning drives.

Now, heading into his second season with 13 starts under his belt, Pickett feels he's in a much different place mentally than he was a year ago.

"I kind of have a familiarity now with what our system is like, how our practice operates, things like that, the schedule. I definitely have a better feeling of what to expect coming into Year 2," Pickett said.

And he was able to learn from the good and bad things he did a year ago in the offseason.

"I went back and watched all the plays and dissected everything. The improvement I made from my first start to the last game of the season was noticeable in my eyes," Pickett said. "As long as I continue to progress in that way and take steps in the right direction, I think I'll be right where I want to be helping the team."

Going through the ups and downs as a rookie starter were part of the learning process. And Pickett feels he learned a lot.

There's still more to do, but he feels he's starting this camp in a much better place.

"I kind of learned more about the mental toughness and the things you have to go through. I had so much success at Pitt my last year. I had some adversity early on. I think those experiences kind of helped me as a rookie going through the ups and downs, being able to bounce back and come back stronger the next game or the next play," Pickett said. "There were definitely experiences I'll take with me moving forward.

• Dale Lolley is co-host of "SNR Drive" on Steelers Nation Radio. Subscribe to the podcast here: Apple Podcast | iHeart Podcast

"I feel like I'm in a good spot. We had a good spring. I feel like I took control of the offense and the system and kind of ran the show how I like to do it, which is a familiar feeling. It's good when you're the quarterback to be in command of the system. I feel like I can build on that in camp."

It's been a busy past 18 months for the 25-year-old. But many of the life milestones are now behind him.

He finished up at Pitt and was a finalist for the Heisman Trophy while winning the Johnny Unitas Golden Arm Award, which is given annually to college football's top upperclassman quarterback. He went through the draft process, was selected in the first round and then made his first NFL start. In June, he married the longtime girlfriend, Amy Paternoster, checking off another box.

"It's been a busy couple of years to say the least. I got a chance after the wedding and the honeymoon to look back at the last year and a half. It's been special," he said. "It feels good to be in the position I'm in. I've worked really hard to be here. I'm proud to be the quarterback of this team."

But there are still some things to be accomplished.

Pickett begins his second NFL season with a much clearer picture of what it takes to succeed in the NFL. And he's got lofty goals.

"Always high," Pickett said of where he places his goals. "There's always one; win the Super Bowl. That's the main one and the only one I'm focused on. If you win championships, everything else takes care of itself. That's the only goal I have going into the season."

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