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Bill Cowher: Who Can Take Command in the Pittsburgh Huddle?

For the first time in 17 years, there is an open quarterback competition within the Pittsburgh Steelers organization. Someone has to take command inside the Pittsburgh huddle this season—it’s that simple: Who is the leader?

The Steelers offense evolved from when I started there, thanks in large part to quarterback Ben Roethlisberger. Now, offensive coordinator Matt Canada, who has been with the team since 2020, has a new challenge and will have great impact on the franchise.

The staff will evaluate who looks the most comfortable, who can be the most consistent, and each guy will get their opportunity to impress in August.

All three should have reps with the first string in the exhibition games so the staff can evaluate them in the first quarter, and in the two-minute offense. By the end of that third preseason game, I’d expect the staff to make their decision.

There is no denying that Mason Rudolph has the most experience in Canada’s system. Ideally, he, or veteran Mitchell Trubisky wins the job. They understand the grind of the season, the preparation that is required to succeed, the different looks they’ll get from defenses. I think first-round draft pick Kenny Pickett will be very good in the long run, but ideally, you bring him along slowly and confidently.

Once you name your starting quarterback, the job isn’t done. If you are Canada and head coach Mike Tomlin, you need to have a backup plan in place. If the offense stalls, or you’re forced to make a change, you need a guy who can step in and immediately provide a spark.

For now, the question remains: Who will take command inside the Pittsburgh huddle?

Breakdowns

How Do You Deal With a Struggling QB?

The losses are mounting, there is a struggling quarterback. The offense can’t score. The fan outrage is growing. The quarterback just isn’t getting the job done. What should the team do? 

Longtime NFL coaching veteran Marty Mornhinweg take the helm. He chats with Super Bowl champion Head Coach Dave Wannstedt and former NFL quarterbacks Matt Cassell and Rich Gannon. Altogether they get to the bottom of the question no team wants to ask: how much time do you give a struggling quarterback? 

Drawing From Similar Situations

Mornhinweg starts the discussion by asking Wannstedt about his experience with struggling signal-callers while he was coaching the Chicago Bears. The veteran coach asserts it’s not always talent or injury that is the catalyst for a coach making a change under center. 

He explains, “[coaches] have a strong feeling in their gut, what they want to happen and they’re hoping happens. I know competition sounds good, and it’s great for the media and all that, but deep down in the coaches’ rooms… we always knew who we wanted to be the starter.”

Having a struggling quarterback, or two, is less than ideal. Mornhinweg jumps back in to discuss how reps are distributed during a quarterback competition.

“If you have two quarterbacks, you don’t have one,” Mornhinweg said. 

Mornhinweg then goes on to explain something else. He explains how teams, historically, that enter camp—or the regular season—fair without a clear starter at the quarterback position.

Next, Gannon, a former NFL MVP, jumps in to discuss the multitude of teams entering the season with new quarterbacks, new offensive coordinators, and handle business.

Plus, he explains why it’s not always a question of what a new quarterback can handle, but what the other ten players on the offense around him can handle. 

A Struggling Quarterback Needs Proper Support

Continuing with the discussion, the former Raiders quarterback takes an exception. When it comes to the Chicago Bears, they have paired second-year QB Justin Fields with a new (and inexperienced) play caller in Luke Getsy. 

Matt Ryan serves as a good example here for them. Touching on his own time with Norv Turner and the Raiders, Gannon explains learning a new offense can be difficult. Even for the most accomplished and experienced QBs. They may end up appearing as if they are a struggling quarterback versus the latter.

Finally, Wannstedt explains how he felt about Tom Brady as a young QB. He states how NFL legends like Mike Holmgren and Bill Belichick used the same strategy. That strategy was what brought out the best in their superstar quarterbacks. 

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