MOBILE, Ala. -- If the Pittsburgh Steelers want to look in their own backyard for Ben Roethlisberger's replacement, Kenny Pickett won't be hard to find.
Having spent his college career playing at Heinz Field, the home stadium for both Pitt and the Steelers, the quarterback prospect is keenly aware that Big Ben's former team is likely to be in the market for a passer in the 2022 NFL Draft. And getting an opportunity to be the Steelers' next quarterback would be a dream scenario for Pickett, one of the top QBs in the draft class.
"The possibility of getting drafted there, would be unbelievable," Pickett said on Tuesday at the Reese's Senior Bowl introductory news conference. "Pittsburgh's really my second home. That'd be kind of a dream that started once I got recruited to Pitt, and maybe now at the next level, so we'll see what happens."
Pickett will compete this week alongside most of the draft's top quarterback prospects with NFL scouts and coaches looking on -- Tuesday marks the first of three practices ahead of Saturday's annual all-star game (2:30 p.m. ET on NFL Network). Other quarterbacks in attendance include North Carolina's Sam Howell, Western Kentucky's Bailey Zappe, Nevada's Carson Strong, Liberty's Malik Willis and Cincinnati's Desmond Ridder. Pickett led Pitt to an ACC championship last season, passing for 4,319 yards, 42 touchdowns and only seven interceptions.
But his connection to the Steelers, who hold the draft's 20th overall pick, doesn't end with his experience at Heinz Field. Pickett's quarterback coach at Pitt, Mark Whipple, was Roethlisberger's first NFL quarterback coach with the Steelers. Whipple tutored Roethlisberger in his first three seasons with the Steelers, from 2004-2006.
"Obviously, Ben's a Hall of Famer. He had an unbelievable career," Pickett said. "He was coached by coach Whipple, which is pretty cool, to be coached by coach Whip. A lot of things that he taught Ben, he's been teaching me these past three seasons at Pitt."
The task of replacing Roethlisberger is a daunting one for a club that hasn't had to deal with turnover at the quarterback position in nearly two decades. Backups Mason Rudolph and Dwayne Haskins figure to get their chance, but with general manager Kevin Colbert approaching his final NFL draft with the club, a successful long-term starting quarterback out of the draft would be an ideal parting gift from Colbert to Steeler Nation.
One question Pickett will look to answer in the draft process relates to his hand size, but he won't have his hand measured in Mobile. Scouts generally prefer quarterback prospects to have hands measuring at least nine inches for ball security reasons, particularly those who play in cold-weather cities. Scouts have previously measured his hands below the 9-inch mark, and he's doing stretching exercises on his hand, due to a double-jointed thumb that affects his measurement, in advance of the NFL Scouting Combine.
But playing at Heinz Field, of course, means there is no shortage of Pickett game film for NFL clubs to evaluate him in cold-weather conditions.
"The good news is I played in Pittsburgh. Anyone that's been to Pittsburgh knows it's not the nicest place to play in October and November, so I have experience playing in tough weather," Pickett said.
And he wouldn't mind staying there as a pro.