PITTSBURGH – Kenny Pickett isn't worried that he's become concussion prone after sustaining a second one in a matter of months, though the Pittsburgh Steelers rookie quarterback is taking steps to hopefully avoid more of them down the road.
The 20th overall pick in last spring's draft will wear a larger helmet on Saturday night when the Steelers (6-8) host Las Vegas (6-8), The new helmet offers a little more protection for the back of Pickett's head. Both of the concussions Pickett has sustained this season — against Tampa Bay on Oct. 16 and against Baltimore on Dec. 11 — came on plays in which the back of his helmet smacked against the Acrisure Stadium turf.
“Slamming my head on the ground is what has been the issue,” Pickett said Thursday. “(The new helmet) has (more protection) in the back, which I think will help.”
Pickett sat out last week's victory over Carolina after concussion-like symptoms lingered after getting knocked down by Baltimore linebacker Roquan Smith early in the first quarter of what became a 16-14 Ravens victory.
Medical personnel initially cleared Pickett to go back in the game, but he self-reported issues after returning for one series and was placed into the protocol.
“When I got back out there and started running (and) vision started coming into play more and I'm moving and things are going fast, that's when symptoms started to come up and I had to go inside," Pickett said.
Pickett called the symptoms this time more severe than the ones he experienced after being removed against Tampa Bay in October on a similar hit. He returned to start the next week.
That wasn't an option after the Baltimore game as symptoms lingered. The Steelers made him inactive, starting Mitch Trubisky in his place.
Pickett said the decision was the right call, but added things have “cleared up now and I'm good to go.”
Sitting out gave Pickett a chance to wear the headset and listen in while the coaches went through the calls during the course of the game.
“It was a unique experience,” Pickett said. “But I definitely like being out on the field more.”
The former Pitt star has made steady strides during the second half of the season. He's gone 129 straight pass attempts without an interception after throwing eight in his first five games.
“I feel like after the bye week, I've had time to study what I was doing and what I need to do better and where we're at as an offense,” Pickett said. “Ever since (the bye week) I feel like it's slowed down each week.”
It's helped that the Steelers appear to have found an offensive identity no matter who is behind center. Pittsburgh has run for more than 100 yards in six of its past seven games, a span in which the Steelers are 4-3. Improved play up front has taken some of the pressure off Pickett to take chances down the field, one of the reasons he's no longer turning the ball over.
Passing figures to be treacherous at best on Christmas Eve with the game time temperature expected to be in the single digits and winds in excess of 30 mph expected at Acrisure Stadium.
Pickett joked he'll wear thicker thermal performance gear and maybe borrow a ski mask from rookie wide receiver George Pickens, who has been fashioning them regardless of the weather for weeks.
Either way, the Steelers need to capture each of their past three games and get a ton of help if they want to keep the faintest of playoff hopes alive.
“I know a lot needs to happen that's outside of our control but we can’t control that,” Picket said. “We want to finish strong and go out with three wins.”
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