It was only a handful of structured plays during a walk-through — no helmet, no pads, no defense and at less than full speed — and even Mike Tomlin was much more interested in checking out undrafted rookie free-agent linebacker Tyree Johnson than paying much attention to his only first-round quarterback selection in his 15 years as Steelers head coach.
Kenny Pickett’s first foray onto the practice fields at UPMC Rooney Sports Complex with the Pittsburgh Steelers was about 100 yards closer than where he walked for five years as Pitt’s quarterback. It lacked much substance because it was a walk-through with more than half of the 51 who participated being unemployed by Monday. But it did reveal one thing: Pickett is still a cool customer under center even though he’s now a professional.
Forget Cool Hand Luke. The Steelers have Cool Kenny, and that jumped off the page during his first day wearing the Black and Gold.
With a call sheet strapped to his left wrist, Pickett went through his first practice Friday — a walk-through followed by a regular session — already a step ahead of most, if not all other rookie quarterbacks who came before him.
Pickett was recruited to Pitt by current Steelers offensive coordinator Matt Canada in 2016. Even though Canada departed for LSU before Pickett made it to campus, much of the Pitt offense created by Canada remained intact under Shawn Watson for Pickett’s freshman year, when his only start came in the season-finale upset over No. 2 Miami (Fla.).
So, with some of the formations still in Canada’s playbook five years later, Pickett, who wore his patented gloves during a 75-degree day, didn’t go into his first practice blind.
“I have a pretty good background with the offense with Coach Canada recruiting me here to Pitt,” Pickett said. “I have some kind of recall (with the formations). Coach Watson kept some of the same formations. I thought the walk-throughs today went pretty well.”
Rookie tight end Connor Heyward — the Steelers’ sixth-round pick — immediately noticed Pickett’s command.
“He had everybody on the same page, and his presence in the huddle was really good,” Heyward said.
Pickett spent the 75-minute walkthrough alternating throws to Rico Bussey, Tyler Vaughns, second-round pick George Pickens, fourth-round pick Calvin Austin III and tryout guys Tre Tipton (another former Pitt Panther) and Tyler Snead.