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Steelers GM Omar Khan: 'I have full faith' in QB Kenny Pickett, but still open to 'competition in the room'

After the benching of quarterback Kenny Pickett by the end of last season, one could be forgiven for thinking the Steelers might be ready to move on from the 2022 first-round pick.

But speaking at the 2024 NFL Scouting Combine on Thursday, Pittsburgh general manager Omar Khan reiterated that despite the circumstances in which Pickett finished out 2023, he still has complete belief in the young QB's ability to lead the offense.

"I have full faith in Kenny Pickett," Khan said, via the team website. "Obviously there were some issues with the offense, and I'm excited about the impact that Arthur Smith is going to have on him. I know Arthur's very optimistic about Kenny, and I know they've communicated. And we'll see where it goes. We feel really good about him."

After finishing 28th in the league in offense last season, the Steelers hired Smith, the former Falcons head coach, as their new offensive coordinator with the goal of resolving what wasn't working under OC Matt Canada, who was dismissed mid-season. His first task could be working with Pickett to bounce back from a tough season.

After a solid enough rookie year in 2022, which saw Pickett take over as starter starting in Week 5, he kept the QB1 role going into the start of the 2023 campaign. But from the beginning, he struggled, averaging 172.5 passing yards per game and a 62.0 completion percentage with just six passing touchdowns in 12 games, all downgrades from his rookie year.

This all culminated in Pickett missing multiple weeks after having surgery to address a high ankle sprain, and then remaining on the bench when healthy for the final game of the season and the Steelers' Super Wild Card Weekend loss.

Through his first two campaigns, Pickett is 14-10 as a starter, not a rousing endorsement for keeping him in the role.

While Khan expressed his confidence in Pickett's ability to lead the team going forward, he was clear that no amount of faith takes away the need for options, especially at a key position like quarterback.

"We'll look at every option," Khan said. "Right now we have one guy under contract, that's Kenny Pickett. I feel really good about Kenny, but he knows, and we all know there's going to be competition in the room, and we've always been a team that keeps three quarterbacks and I'd expect that to be the same this year.

"So we'll look at all avenues."

Though there are many quality choices out there, both in pending free agents and 2024 NFL Draft prospects to provide that competition, Khan said he would like to bring back a familiar face in the form of Mason Rudolph.

Head coach Mike Tomlin turned to Rudolph in the wake of Pickett's injury, and the 28-year-old opened up the offense almost immediately, leading Pittsburgh to a postseason berth down the stretch by winning all three of his regular-season starts.

Rudolph will be a free agent when the market opens up next month, but if Khan had his way, he'd be more than happy to run it back with the QB who stepped up in clutch moments late last season.

"He knows we want him back, we've had conversations, but it's just sort of how the process goes, you know," he said. "At the end of the day, it's a few weeks until the start of the league year. But I know we'd like to have him back, and I believe he wants to come back and compete. He likes it here and we've had a good experience with Mason."

There's still months to go before the Steelers officially have to decide who will be under center for Week 1 or beyond. But if the words of their GM are to be believed, the QB room could look very similar in 2024.

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