Tim Benz: Bill Cowher also faced a 3-QB quandary — but had a unique out the Steelers don’t have now

I guess we’ve figured out the Steelers’ three-headed-monster quarterback situation. All they have to do is move Kenny Pickett to wide receiver.

Hey, that’s how former Steelers coach Bill Cowher handled it in 1996. Maybe current Steelers coach Mike Tomlin should try the same tactic.

Speaking on SiriusXM NFL Radio last week, Cowher reminisced with “Movin’ the Chains” hosts Jim Miller and Pat Kirwan about how he ended up getting around a three-man quarterback derby that season, when there simply weren’t that many snaps to go around with the other starters on offense, as the team was also trying to evaluate who to cut and who to keep.

What made the conversation particularly interesting is that Miller was one of those three quarterbacks that season, along with Kordell Stewart and Mike Tomczak.

And it was Miller who ended up winning the job out of training camp.

“I just remember at that time, I said, ‘OK, we’ll try to split it up,’” Cowher recalled. “If you remember very early on in that process, I asked Kordell to go to receiver because it was just too hard to get three quarterbacks enough reps to really legitimize making a very true evaluation. So, I think that’s going to be the toughest thing for them to do.”

I don’t see any of the Steelers’ current three wide receivers taking on a “Slash” role, do you?

A more realistic way to minimize that problem in 2022 would be to trade Mason Rudolph. After all, if the Steelers thought that Rudolph could — or should — be the starter, they wouldn’t have signed a veteran quarterback in Mitch Trubisky. Nor would they have drafted Pickett in the first round.

So, if one of the three QBs is going to be dealt, it should be Rudolph. But the Steelers have to determine if they are going to wait out a team putting itself in a position of need via injury or attrition in training camp. Otherwise, they may not get anything better than a seventh-round draft pick anyway. Perhaps eventually a team in need at the QB position may give up a fifth-rounder or something better.

But don’t hold your breath.

Then again, if the Steelers are leaning toward Trubisky being the starter as clearly as it appeared during minicamp, with Rudolph being the backup and Pickett essentially redshirting for a year, so be it.

Then there is nothing to worry about, I guess. Just leave the depth chart as is.

They’ll just have to reconcile not using their first-round pick all year — for a team that made the playoffs a year ago but had significant areas of weakness to address.

Plus, they’ll have to reconcile burning a year of Pickett’s rookie contract (which he’ll begin at age 24) by being a scratch on game days.

All this for Mitch Trubisky? A guy the Chicago Bears had no qualms turning loose before last season. A guy who did virtually nothing but stand on the sidelines last year as Josh Allen’s backup in Buffalo. A guy who was available for a $3.6 million cap hit this season.

Yet Cowher seems to think he was worth it.

“I do like Mitch Trubisky,” Cowher said. “I think in the right system, I think he’s athletic, he can get on the perimeter. I think a lot of the things Ben (Roethlisberger) did early in his career and was not doing late in his career, they have that now in that backfield. I think you’ve got three guys who can move around. There’s a lot more athleticism I would say back there.”

And the former coach endorsed the idea of slow-rolling Pickett.

“The speed of the game. That is a significant difference for a college player coming into the pro ranks from the college ranks,” Cowher said. “The windows are much smaller that you have to throw into. The timing has to be there. A lot more diverse looks you are going to get. Mason and Mitch have seen a lot more in the NFL. When you look at Kenny Pickett, keep it simple. Let him develop into it. When you let him get his confidence early, then you can grow with him.”

Sure. But I thought part of the rationale for drafting Pickett in the first round was that the learning curve wasn’t going to be so steep because of his maturity and all of his extensive college experience at Pitt.

I mean, that’s what we were led to believe anyway.

By the way, when Miller won the job, he was in his third year with the team. And Cowher let Miller “develop into it” and “allowed him to get his confidence early” in 1996.

For roughly two and a half quarters.

Then he benched him for Tomczak midway through the third quarter of the season opener in Jacksonville. Tomczak started the next 15 weeks. The Steelers made the playoffs. And Miller never started another game in Pittsburgh.

So maybe it’s Trubisky that should learn some plays at wide receiver in case his first start goes just like Miller’s did.

Can he play the slot?

Tim Benz is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Tim at tbenz@triblive.com or via Twitter. All tweets could be reposted. All emails are subject to publication unless specified otherwise.

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