PITTSBURGH (AP) - A year ago, Kenny Pickett found himself buried at third on the Pittsburgh depth chart during spring drills, as tends to happen to freshmen who’ve been on campus all of a few weeks.
Not that Pickett ever thought of himself as a third-stringer. That’s simply not his way.
“I acted like I was No.1 when I got here,” Pickett said with a laugh on Saturday after the Panthers completed spring practice with their annual Blue/Gold scrimmage. “No one else thought it, but I thought I was No. 1 so when it happens it’s just another day for me.”
Now the teenager who spent most of last season behind Max Browne and Ben DiNucci finds himself entrenched as the starter going forward for Pitt, as tends to happen when you engineer an upset of second-ranked Miami in your first-ever start as Pickett did during Pitt’s 2017 finale.
The 24-14 stunner in which Pickett threw for two scores and ran for another turned him into an instant celebrity of sorts and provided the Panthers with some legitimate momentum heading into an offseason that started sooner than they would have liked. Pitt finished 5-7 and did not play in a bowl game.
“I’ve gone from a guy no one knew, probably no one had any idea about to a guy that after one day kind of flipped the script on it,” Pickett said.
Backing up such a dramatic first impression will be difficult. Yet Pickett has attacked the process, basically tethering himself to a seat in the film room to pick up the intricacies of offensive coordinator Shawn Watson’s system. The Panthers certainly need him too. Though he doesn’t turn 20 until June, Pickett is now the most experienced quarterback on the roster.
“That’s kind of crazy but I’m ready to take on that role,” Pickett said.
Even if Pickett’s second “start” at Heinz Field didn’t exactly end the same as his first. Pickett completed 13 of 23 passes for 140 yards for the Gold team. He also threw a Pick 6 with less than a minute to go when Dane Jackson stepped in front of a hitch route and sprinted 60 yards for a touchdown to give the Blue a 10-3 win.
“He baited it,” Pickett said. “He kind of bailed out so that’s my read to go short but he stuck his foot in the ground and made a good play.”
It was one of the few miscues during the spring by Pickett, who earned praise from both Watson and head coach Pat Narduzzi for his decision making .Having such a promising month of practice end with a sobering moment isn’t exactly a bad thing either.
“I think it’ll be great for him,” Narduzzi said. “I know how he’ll take that. It’ll just motivate him even more for the summer that ‘I’m not going to let that happen.’ You try to make a play, try to push it in there and sometimes bad things can happen in a ballgame.”
It was also one of the few times during spring drills Jackson happened to get the best of Pickett. Those kinds of opportunities have become increasingly rare as Pickett becomes more comfortable.
“He threw a 40-yard strike and I almost picked it and I couldn’t even get to it because it was on a string,” Jackson said. “He’s leading with his play.”
It’s just as Pickett planned when he stepped on campus just over a year ago. He’s got 140 days to get ready for Pitt’s 2018 opener against Albany. Unlike last summer - when Narduzzi took his time before naming Browne the starter - there will be no quarterback competition in camp. The job - and the offense - are Pickett’s.
“I run the show when I’m out there,” Pickett said. “I’m the guy everybody looks to and that’s how it has to be and that’s how it will be.”
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