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'Next Step': Steelers' Art Rooney Wants QB Growth

Pittsburgh Steelers owner Art Rooney II believes better quarterback play can unlock a new level for his team.

PITTSBURGH -- Pittsburgh Steelers President Art Rooney II wasted little time addressing what he felt has been his team's primary issue since the retirement of legendary, two-time Super Bowl champion Ben Roethlisberger. 

The Steelers don't have a clear long-term answer at the quarterback position and instability that isn't familiar to this organization after 18 seasons with a future Hall of Famer under center. Rooney wants to address that question quickly this offseason, and that conversation starts with Kenny Pickett. 

"In terms of the next step, we need to do everything we can to make sure we get quality play out of our quarterback position going forward," Rooney said. "We still feel good about Kenny Pickett and his future but he knows he needs to work hard and take the next step and we’ve talked about that. One of the things I think we liked about Kenny in terms of his career at Pitt was how hard he worked and he took a step every year, so we’re looking for that to happen here.”

Pickett, the Steelers' 2022 first-round pick out of Pitt, threw for 2,070 yards, six touchdowns and four interceptions during an injury-stunted 2023 campaign. He played one fewer game than last year, threw for one fewer touchdown, 334 fewer yards and five fewer interceptions. His play remained stagnant, and the Steelers' offense continued to struggle to score points. 

The front office is confident Pickett will continue to grow, but one-time third-stringer Mason Rudolph stepped in to start the final three games of the regular season and the Steelers' playoff game and yielded better results. He gave the offense a shot in the arm, completing 75% of his passes for an average of 238 yards per game and three touchdowns with no interceptions. 

Rooney believes in Pickett's potential but is hopeful the team can retain Rudolph, who's a free agent this offseason, and provide some competition for Pickett as he enters a pivotal year in his career. 

“Mason Rudolph came in and showed, I think, what we’re capable of when we do get quality play at the quarterback position," Rooney said. "So we’re appreciative of what Mason did and we’re interested in bringing Mason back.”

If you ask Rooney, he says Rudolph has yet to hit his ceiling as a quarterback.

Rooney's faith in Pickett stems from the 2022 20th overall picks' intangibles. Coaches and teammates have raved about his leadership qualities and toughness, but Rooney would like to see more progress in his development on the field. 

“I think the on-the-field learning is something you can expect progress in more than the intangibles. Intangibles, you sort of either have them or you don’t, so his ability to develop to see the field and read defenses quickly, those are things you can develop with experience," Rooney said. "I think you look around the league and you see that happening with young quarterbacks who, first couple of years, they’re kind of finding their way and all of a sudden, third or fourth year in, it clicks. That’s what you need to see.”

Rooney acknowledged the firing of offensive coordinator Matt Canada during the season did hurt Pickett's development. 

The Steelers think they had two capable quarterbacks in their grasp last season but in pursuit of better success, particularly in the postseason, they're looking to raise the ceiling with better play from that position. 

"We still feel comfortable with Kenny, but that being said, you can’t discount what Mason did and you can’t discount the fact that having competition will be good for everyone," Rooney said. "I think [head coach] Mike [Tomlin] feels that way and we all feel that way. So I’d say there’s still more to come on who’s in the quarterback room when we start camp this offseason.”

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