The Steelers open the preseason on Saturday night against the Seattle Seahawks at 7 p.m. at Acrisure Stadium, and it will be the first time one of training camps most interesting battles will be on display in a game.
The battle for who will be the team's starting quarterback when they open the regular season is still ongoing, and on Thursday Coach Mike Tomlin outlined the division of labor for Saturday's game.
Veteran Mitch Trubisky, who was signed as an unrestricted free agent this offseason, will start the game. The rotation will continue with fifth-year veteran Mason Rudolph and rookie first-round pick Kenny Pickett. Tomlin said the two things he is looking for from the quarterbacks is moving the offensive unit and taking care of the football.
"We've got every intention of playing the three quarterbacks," said Tomlin. "How much is to be determined. I wasn't going to be blowing in the wind regarding the quarterback rotation. We've been thoughtful about giving guys an opportunity to work in different groups. Our intentions are to play them this first time out the way we started this process."
Tomlin said he has liked what the quarterbacks have done, and when asked particularly about Rudolph and Pickett, once again said don't read too much into the depth chart.
"They're doing what we're asking them to do," said Tomlin. "They're taking care of the ball and moving their units and they're doing the unofficial things that come with quarterback position in terms of leadership. They're doing a nice job.
"I'll be quite honest with you guys. I only provide depth charts because I have to. That's what this process is about. I think you do this process a disservice oftentimes when you read too much into depth charts at this juncture, particularly when we haven't even been in the stadium yet."
The quarterback position isn't the only spot where rotations will be in effect on Saturday, and Tomlin explained how it will all play out.
"We have a template or framework in which we we'd like to attack this in terms of participation and division of labor. We've got every intention of the first group playing a quarter, the second groups playing the second and third quarter and then the third group playing the fourth quarter. There will be some bleeding, if you will, and the guys, if there's a first teamer that lacks experience, he may play into the second quarter. It there's a third teamer who is on the come with some upside, he might get in the game in the third quarter, things of that nature. It's not going to be hard lines. We're going to do what we feel is appropriate. Our goal is to come out of this game giving everybody an opportunity to show what they're capable of and gain a better understanding of their play under real football like circumstances, and so that's exciting.
"A lot of some of the hard and fast things that you guys might be interested in, as I sit here today, I'm not going to have the answers for. We're highly conscious that we have a practice this afternoon. Every time you snap that ball this afternoon it could change plans. We have a template, and we'll finalize some of those things this evening after we get off this practice field today.
"Today's a big day. I'd be doing today a disservice if I started looking too much ahead. We got a Steelers vs Steelers padded practice today and that's significant. But guys will have an opportunity to show what they're capable of."
After almost three weeks at training camp, Tomlin is ready for that next step, the step that will show him the growth that has occurred since they took the field for camp.
"It is exciting to be at this point of development," said Tomlin. "It's time to get this group in the stadium and compete against some unfamiliar guys. To be in game-like circumstances and have to deal with some of the transitional things associated with play.
"In practices, its game-like. Drills are coordinated and organized. To see their ability to move and function fluidly in the midst of actual play is a significant step. No question the performances under those circumstances are weighted more heavily than they are in these circumstances. We're really excited about that."
While the quarterback position will be one many are focused on, it's not the only area Tomlin will be focused on.
In the return game, the focus will be on Gunner Olszewski, Calvin Austin III and Anthony McFarland Jr. among other specialists.
"The return men. We got a lot of people to look at there," said Tomlin. "The specialists. Got a lot of people to look at there. Game-like circumstances are going to be big for all of those parties as well.
"All of them are viable. We mean what we say when we say we don't care about by what means guys get here. They'll be given an opportunity to show what they're capable of. Return space is a space that history tells me that I'm always open to potentially being surprised. So, I'm excited about it."
More from Tomlin:
On what he is seeing from the running backs in Najee Harris' absence:
"I like what they've displayed out here. I'm really interested in watching them in stadium and obviously, ball security is a component of that position that is nonnegotiable. You get those guys in the stadium and you get the chance to see their second effort and the things that you do in game like circumstances, they need to do those things while safeguarding the football."
On if anybody has been ruled out for Saturday's game:
"Not at this point. I'm always going to have an inclusive mentality. Obviously, if somebody has missed a significant amount of practice time, I probably won't play them because I'm setting them up for failure. But at this point, all of those that are working and working in some capacity, I'm having an inclusive mentality."
On what he can learn about Kenny Pickett in live NFL action:
"A lot. This guy hasn't been in a live pocket yet. None of the quarterbacks have, and that component of it is significant. In terms of their play, their ability to operate and make decisions in a timely manner, their ability to absorb the punishment that comes with the game and the position. There's so much involved in live quarterback play, their ability to protect the football. It's a big opportunity for him and others."