PITTSBURGH – Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Kenny Pickett's status for this week's visit to Carolina is uncertain after entering the concussion protocol for the second time in two months.
Pickett was pulled from a 16-14 loss to Baltimore last Sunday in the first quarter after showing signs of a concussion. Pickett's head slammed into the Acrisure Stadium turf while getting sacked by Ravens linebacker Roquan Smith. He was evaluated for a concussion and cleared to return, playing one series before he was re-evaluated and removed from the game.
Steelers coach Mike Tomlin said Tuesday he had no issue with the circumstances surrounding Pickett's exit.
Asked if he believes the protocol should be amended in light of the delayed onset of symptoms for Pickett, Tomlin replied “not at all.”
“When someone in the protocol is evaluated by the experts, they’re either cleared to participate or not,” Tomlin said. “Even when they are (cleared), which (Pickett) was, they watched him continually. As they continued to watch him, they decided to pull him and that’s the reality of it.”
Pickett's availability for Pittsburgh's trip to the improving Panthers (5-8) will likely depend on whether he is cleared of the protocol in time to return to practice. If Pickett can't go, either Mitch Trubisky or Mason Rudolph will get the start as the Steelers (5-8) try to avoid clinching the first losing season of Tomlin's 16-year tenure.
Pickett did not miss a start after entering the protocol the first time during a victory over Tampa Bay on Oct. 16. Tomlin pointed out that Pickett was able to practice during the week. It remains unclear whether the rookie will be able to this time around.
“If he’s able to work, we’ll work him,” Tomlin said. “If he’s unable to work, obviously we’ll divvy those reps up between Mitch and Mason.”
Tomlin added he's not any more concerned about Pickett this time than he was when Pickett entered the protocol in October.
“I’m really comfortable with where we are," Tomlin said. “As I’ve mentioned in the past, when we’ve had injuries of this nature, I got nothing but great admiration and respect for our medical experts. People come from all over the world to visit with our guys and from other sports as well. And so I’ll let them do what it is they do.”
The NFL tweaked the protocol in early October to add abnormality of balance/stability as among the symptoms to look for while evaluating whether a player has had a concussion. Pickett did not noticeably appear to have either of those issues at any point before being taken out.
Trubisky has served as the primary backup behind Pickett since Pickett replaced him as the starter at halftime of a loss to the New York Jets on Oct. 2. He played well in relief of Pickett against Tampa Bay and while the Steelers went up and down the field on Sunday with Trubisky in the game, he also turned the ball over three times in Baltimore territory to halt potential scoring drives.
“We just didn’t make enough plays, particularly when the field got short,” Tomlin said. “We had to do a better job of taking care of the football.”
Rudolph has spent the entire season as the third-stringer and the Steelers have made him inactive on game days. The five-year veteran said Monday he's “ready to rock” if needed.
Tomlin described Trubisky and Rudolph as “2 and 2a” in terms of serving as Pickett's backup, but remains hopeful Pickett will also be in the mix.
“All three guys have been participants in our game planning, particularly of late, and all are very capable of playing the position and playing a position at a high level within what we’re doing right now,” Tomlin said. “And so we’ll take it day to day and play it by ear.”
NOTES: Defensive lineman Chris Wormley's season is over after a left knee injury sustained in the second half that will require surgery. ... TE Pat Freiermuth is dealing with a foot injury, but should practice this week.
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