Steelers camp: Kenny Pickett takes first-team reps; George Pickens holds his own against Minkah Fitzpatrick
Written by Bryan DeArdo on August 16, 2022
LATROBE, Pennsylvania — Practice had yet to wrap up when reports surfaced that Kenny Pickett was taking snaps with the first-team offense during Tuesday’s training camp practice. Pickett, fresh off of his successful performance during Pittsburgh’s preseason-opening win against Seattle, did indeed take first-team reps during the Steelers‘ third-to-last practice of camp.
So, how did he do?
Tuesday’s practice ended with a two-minute drill between the Steelers’ starting units. The drill started with the Steelers’ offense facing a second-and-five from their own 47 yard-line with 1:01 on the clock. Pickett ran the first-team offense, while Mitch Trubisky, who took part in the rest of practice, was given this portion of practice off.
Pickett started the drive with quick completions to Chase Claypool and Najee Harris. He then threw incomplete on a deep attempt to Pat Freiermuth with T.J. Watt bearing down (Watt argued to no avail that his pressure should have counted as a sack). Pickett rebounded with a deep completion to rookie wideout George Pickens to get the ball inside the 20-yard-line with less than 20 seconds left in the drill.
A short completion from Pickett to Pickens set up end zone passes to end the drill. Both passes fell short of the mark; Pickett was unable to hit Pickens — who was double-covered in the back of the end zone — before overthrowing Claypool as time expired.
Mason Rudolph experienced similar results when it was his turn to run the drill. Working with the second-team offense, Rudolph moved the offense into the red zone before hitting the wall that was the Steelers’ secondary.
Pickett also received work during the Steelers’ Seven Shots drill, a seven-play drill from the three-yard-line pitting the staring units against each other. The offense started slowly before consecutive scoring passes from Trubisky evened the score at 2-2. Pickett came in for the fifth play and hit Anthony McFarland for a short score. He then stood tall under pressure before hitting a diving Connor Heyward in the end zone. The offense completed its 5-2 win when Rudolph hit receiver Tyler Vaughns — the recipient of Saturday night’s game-winning score against Seattle — for the score.
The star of the drill was tight end Freiermuth, who during Seven Shots routinely lined up in the slot alongside Diontae Johnson on the near side of the field. An extremely productive player during his rookie season, Friermuth is excited to see what this year’s rookie class will bring to the table once the regular season begins.
“The rookies are awesome,” Freiermuth said after practice. “We gel nice, we’re all young. There’s good camaraderie on the team right now.”
As far as Pickett is concerned, the Steelers’ first-round pick continued to show signs of progress during Tuesday’s practice. Trubisky remains the front-runner to be Pittsburgh’s starting quarterback, while Pickett continues to work at his own pace while strengthening his rapport with the first-team offense.
Here are a few other notable Steelers tidbits from Latrobe.
The rookie vs. the All-Pro
The aforementioned Pickens had multiple one-on-one matchups against former All-Pro free safety Minkah Fitzpatrick. Pickens initially got the better of his elder teammate, which led to some commentary from Steelers coach Mike Tomlin.
“Give him the business, GP!” Tomlin yelled at his young wideout.
Fitzpatrick responded right away, batting down a comeback pass intended for Pickens. Tomlin, who has coached a bevy of talented young wideouts in his 16 years as Steelers coach, was not ready to see the Pickens vs. Fitzpatrick matchup come to an end.
“Fourteen, we’re coming back your way!” Tomlin declared.
Pickens, whose star has risen considerably during camp, responded by catching a short pass after selling the deep route. The drill appeared to have the desired effect for Tomlin, who has certainly heard the building hype surrounding the second-round pick.
“Ask George, you know what I mean?” Tomlin said with a smile when asked about the matchup. “The exposure was not for Minkah, it was for George.”
‘Benny Snell football’
Backup running back Benny Snell practiced Tuesday after missing previous practice time with an injury. Snell looked sharp on Tuesday, making several impressive runs while also getting involved in the passing game. The four-year veteran is looking to hold off still competition behind him that includes Jaylen Warren and recently-signed Master Teague.
Snell continued to work after practice had concluded, as he got in extra work with a jugs machine.
Harvin’s big day
Second-year punter Pressley Harvin III had several booming punts that included one that was close to 70 yards. A 2021 seventh-round pick, Harvin faced several challenging moments as a rookie, including the loss of his father and grandfather over a two-week span. He is surely hoping to return to the form that saw him win the Ray Guy Award during his final season at Georgia Tech.
Robinson ‘rocks’ McFarland
Rookie seventh-round pick Mark Robinson’s arrow continues to point north. Three days after his strip-sack and fumble recovery set up the Steelers’ game-winning score against Seattle, Robinson snuffed out a screen pass during Tuesday’s practice. While he merely held up McFarland, Robinson stopped the speedy back dead in his tracks while showing impressive awareness for someone who didn’t start playing linebacker until his final year of college.
Not everyone’s Buddy
The only turnover of the day was submitted by linebacker Buddy Johnson, who like Robinson is looking to move up the depth chart. The former Texas A&M standout picked off Rudolph at the tail end of Tuesday’s practice. Johnson is looking to make a bigger impact this season after appearing in just four games as a rookie.
Johnson makes presence felt
It was hard not to notice Johnson during Tuesday’s practice. While he didn’t do anything out of the ordinary during practice, Johnson was highly vocal during the two-hour period. At one point, he playfully challenged Pittsburgh’s defensive backs to play man defense.
“Seek that comfort!” Johnson yelled at the secondary following the first-team’s two-minute drills.
Johnson then proceeded to get more work in after practice. Wearing a sweatshirt despite the heat, Johnson caught a series of balls as he looks to build off of last year’s Pro Bowl campaign.
There was one other thing that was noticeable regarding Johnson’s practice. As stated above, Johnson routinely lined up beside the 6-foot-5 Freiermuth during Seven Shots. The formation appeared to create mismatch problems for the defense, which could be a sign of things to come for opposing defenses when the regular season begins on September 11.