NFL starting QB tracker: Steelers’ Kenny Pickett to lead first team vs. Jaguars

There are a handful of NFL teams with quarterback competitions this summer. 

With the preseason in full swing, let’s dive into where the league’s quarterback battles stand. 

Kenny Pickett will receive more snaps in the Pittsburgh Steelers’ second preseason game

Steelers rookie quarterback Kenny Pickett received first-team snaps during practice this week. He’ll receive more of them against better competition in Pittsburgh’s second preseason game, which is against the Jacksonville Jaguars on Saturday.

Steelers coach Mike Tomlin told reporters Thursday that Mitchell Trubisky will get the starting nod, but Pickett will also get reps with the first-team offense. 

“We simply want to see Kenny in more varsity action,” Tomlin said. “We know more about Mason [Rudolph]. Mitch has been around the professional game, obviously. So, this is a big week for [Pickett] in terms of maybe getting in the first half of this game and I would imagine getting the opportunity to see frontline defenders for Jacksonville.”

Pickett has still mostly taken snaps with the Steelers’ second unit in practice. 

Trubisky started the Steelers’ first preseason game against the Seattle Seahawks, leading Pittsburgh on an opening-drive touchdown. The drive was capped off by a 13-yard touchdown pass to Gunner Olszewski. Trubisky finished the night 4-for-7 on passing attempts with 63 yards and the touchdown. 

Rudolph, entering his fifth season with the Steelers, picked up where Trubisky left off, completing 9-of-15 passes for 93 yards. His night was highlighted by a 26-yard touchdown pass to rookie wide receiver George Pickens. 

Pickett, the No. 20 pick in the 2022 draft, had a sparkling debut. The University of Pittsburgh product finished the night with 95 passing yards and two touchdowns on 13-for-15 passing, taking what the defense gave him. Pickett’s efficiency potentially tightens Pittsburgh’s quarterback competition.

“They moved their units,” Mike Tomlin said of his QBs. “They did the informal things associated with the position from a leadership and communication standpoint. They were engaged. It was a good first time out for all three.”

Drew Lock contracts COVID-19 after increasing first-team reps, Geno Smith still holding QB1 spot

Despite Geno Smith’s lead in the Seahawks’ quarterback derby, head coach Pete Carroll pegged Drew Lock to start Thursday’s preseason game against the Chicago Bears. Those plans have been foiled, however, as Lock tested positive for COVID-19 and will be sidelined for the contest. This robs the 25-year-old QB of a critical opportunity to push Smith for the starting job.

Earlier Tuesday, Lock got extended reps with the first team in practice and had two notable completions to Tyler Lockett and DK Metcalf.

Since trading Russell Wilson to the Denver Broncos, the Seahawks have had a fluid quarterback situation with Lock and Smith, who started three games for Seattle last season when Wilson suffered a finger injury. The situation remains all the more fluid after the team’s loss to Pittsburgh.

Serving as the team’s starter, Smith finished the game with 101 passing yards on 10-of-15 passing while also running in a 2-yard touchdown. The veteran appears to have the upper hand in the quarterback battle given his familiarity with the Seahawks’ offense; Smith, 31, is entering his fourth season with Seattle. 

On the other hand, Lock finished the game with 102 passing yards and two touchdowns on 11-for-15 passing. The fourth-year quarterback started on and off in Denver, occasionally flaunting starting potential. 

Veterans separate for Carolina Panthers

Carolina has four candidates for its starting quarterback spot: Baker Mayfield, Sam Darnold, Matt Corral and P.J. Walker. All four played in the team’s 23-21 win over the Washington Commanders, with the veterans holding their own.

Mayfield, who was recently acquired from the Cleveland Browns, started for the Panthers and finished with 45 passing yards on 4-for-7 passing. Darnold, the team’s primary quarterback in 2021, was impactful in brief reps. The fifth-year quarterback was 2-for-3, including an 8-yard touchdown to Rashard Higgins. Walker, whose roster spot is in jeopardy given the team’s acquisition of Mayfield, got the most playing time of the bunch, throwing for 136 yards on 10-for-19 passing.

Corral, who Carolina traded up to select with the No. 94 pick in the 2022 draft, finished 1-for-9 for 11 yards. 

Head coach Matt Rhule recently said he wouldn’t name a starter until after the team’s Aug. 19 matchup with the New England Patriots.

Mayfield and Darnold seem like the frontrunners to start, however, given Mayfield’s four years of experience starting for the Browns and Darnold entering his second season with the Panthers.

“They were both in command,” Rhule said of Mayfield and Darnold. “Sam got us in the end zone, Baker led us down the field, so it looked like both guys played well in terms of production. We’ll go back and look and see where they are.”

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