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Steelers’ Trubisky looks to prove mettle as a starting QB

Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Mitch Trubisky throws against the Arizona Cardinals during the second half of an NFL football game Sunday, Dec. 3, 2023, in Pittsburgh. (AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar)

PITTSBURGH — Mitch Trubisky insists he’s too worried about the New England Patriots to think about how the next few weeks might affect the arc of his career.

Still, the No. 2 overall draft pick in 2017 may be running out of opportunities to prove he can be an NFL starting quarterback. His next chance will begin on Thursday night when the Pittsburgh Steelers (7-5) host the reeling Patriots (2-10).

Kenny Pickett, who leapfrogged Trubisky on the depth chart 14 months ago, is out indefinitely after undergoing right ankle surgery on Monday.

Enter Trubisky, who at 29 believes he can still deliver on the talent that made the Chicago Bears trade up to take him ahead of players such as Patrick Mahomes and Christian McCaffrey.

Not that Trubisky wants to talk about it.

Asked if he feels as if the next month is an audition of sorts — be it in Pittsburgh (where Pickett remains a work in progress), or elsewhere — Trubisky simply shrugged and said repeatedly he’s simply “excited” for the chance to be on the field to prove he’s not quite ready to be a career backup.

“I’m still growing,” he said. “I’m still learning and trying to get better every day. I’ve got some experience under my belt, but I’ve made some good plays and for me it’s going to be (about) consistency.”

It always is with Trubisky, who can tantalize with his athleticism one minute and throw an ill-advised pass into triple coverage the next.

It’s been that way basically from the moment Trubisky entered the league. He endured four turbulent years in Chicago then spent a season hitting the reset button behind Josh Allen in Buffalo in 2021 before signing with the Steelers in the spring of 2022.

Pittsburgh offered a chance at a fresh start. It hasn’t exactly worked out that way. The Steelers drafted Pickett weeks after even though Trubisky emerged from training camp as the starter, the leash was short. A month into the season, Trubisky was benched.

He took the demotion gracefully, and a player who knows what it’s like to enter the league with outsized expectations has tried to help Pickett deal with them while not being overcome by them.

The results have been mixed, with Pickett’s best attribute being that he simply doesn’t make the kind of mistakes that cost the Steelers games.

He also, however, has struggled to be a difference-maker, too often settling for the safe (and sometimes ineffective) throw when the moment requires more.

That won’t be a problem with Trubisky, who has never met a needle he didn’t like to thread, regardless of the results. He’s become a frequent sub during Pickett’s injury-marked tenure and has already filled in three times this season after Pickett left for various reasons.

Trubisky’s numbers when getting thrust into the middle of games this season have been merely OK. He’s completed 29 of 49 passes for 273 yards with two touchdowns and two picks and has yet to orchestrate a comeback win.

Yet his mindset is decidedly different than the cautious-to-a-fault Pickett. Trubisky, who has far less to lose at this point than the player the Steelers have anointed as their next franchise quarterback, has no issues letting it fly.

For better or for worse.

Against Jacksonville on Oct. 29, the Steelers had the ball trailing by a touchdown with 10 minutes to go when Trubisky tried to hit Allen Robinson running down the seam near midfield. One problem: there were three Jaguars blanketing Robinson, including safety Andrew Wingard, who stepped in front of the pass to end any comeback hope.

In the third quarter against the Cardinals, Pittsburgh had a chance to make it interesting when Trubisky tried essentially the same play, throwing a pass into a tight window to a streaking Connor Heyward at the goal line.

The ball somehow made it between two defenders only to glance off Heyward’s outstretched hands. The Steelers missed a field goal a moment later and the game was essentially over.

While Trubisky knows he needs to take care of the ball, he also understands the Steelers can’t remain a legitimate AFC playoff contender if they only reach the end zone once a game.

“You’ve got to find ways to score points,” he said. “So I’m trying to be that catalyst that will be a difference-maker, whether you’re starting or coming off the bench.”

Trubisky, however, allowed he’ll be “calmer” on Thursday than the customary adrenaline spike that comes when being thrust onto the field in the middle of the game.

While interim offensive coordinator Eddie Faulkner doesn’t think the offense will change much with Trubisky behind center, Trubisky will get a chance to have input on the game plan, which doesn’t happen most weeks.

“There is a personality there for him that’s different than (Pickett) just because they’re different people,” Faulkner said.

At different stages of their careers. The Steelers are still heavily invested in Pickett going forward and Trubisky is under contract through the 2024 season to essentially be the backup.

All of that could change over the next handful of games. If Trubisky flourishes and the Steelers reach the playoffs thanks in part to the offense instead of almost because of it, maybe the dynamic in the quarterback room will change by training camp.

Or maybe another team will see Trubisky and view him as a potential stop-gap and make Pittsburgh an offer.

Everything is on the table for a player who has a Pro Bowl on his resume and faith that his best football is in front of him, not behind him.

“I’m just going to go out and play my game.”

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