Kenny Pickett spent even the last few days before heading to his first NFL training camp working on his game.
The rookie first-round pick is competing to succeed Ben Roethlisberger as the starting quarterback of the Pittsburgh Steelers. He won’t be outworked.
“That was instilled in me at a young age with my dad and I just kind of kept that work ethic and preparation throughout my college career and now into my pro career,” Pickett said on the AP Pro Football Podcast.
Steelers coach Mike Tomlin already praised Pickett’s work ethic in May, saying: “He’s not a clock-puncher. He’s always trying to get better.”
Pickett trained throughout the offseason with his personal quarterbacks coach Tony Racioppi and the team at TEST Football Academy in Martinsville, New Jersey, located less than an hour from his hometown of Oakhurst.
They prepared the former Pitt star for the NFL combine and he ended up being the first quarterback selected in the draft at No. 20 overall.
“I’ve been with Tony for six years now, so he’ll be my guy throughout my career.” Pickett said. “Then, once I met the guys at TEST, went through their speed training, the conditioning and the combine prep, that went so great. My numbers were drastically improved from when I got done with the season to where I finished up so that’ll be my team for the rest of my career.”
Racioppi was a two-year starting quarterback at Rowan University and played football in Europe and the Arena League. He had free agent tryouts in the NFL with the Jets and Dolphins, and has interned for Jaguars as an offensive assistant for two seasons.
“Kenny is prepared to be an outstanding quarterback at the NFL level,” Racioppi said. “His ability to anticipate throws, throw with elite accuracy, change tempos of the ball while being able to drive the football when needed and make plays with his feet are what the NFL is now. His intangibles are off the charts as a teammate, leader and winner. Work ethic, mental and physical and desire to be great are his trademarks. It’s been an amazing six years plus last six months of NFL draft prep of us training together and looking forward to many more ahead.”
The Steelers begin a new era without Roethlisberger, who retired after an excellent 18-year career that featured a pair of Super Bowl titles. Veteran Mitch Trubisky entered camp as the starter and Mason Rudolph has been with Pittsburgh since 2018 but the Steelers drafted Pickett for a reason.
“I’m going to learn from those guys and there’s a lot I have to learn with the new system,” Pickett said. “I’m just looking forward to getting some reps playing in the system and competing this camp. The 7-on-7s (in the offseason) definitely helped, just going through some of our reads and moving through the progression and getting some actual physical reps instead of just watching on tape and studying the playbook. That all really helped me going into camp.”
Pickett spoke to Roethlisberger a few days after the draft and Big Ben offered to help him however he could.
“He gave me some great words of advice and if I have any questions, I can always reach out and ask him,” Pickett said. “I think he will be a great resource to have as my career progresses here.”
One aspect regarding the transition from college to the pros couldn’t go any smoother for Pickett. He’s quite familiar with the city, the media and the stadium.
“My college coaches are right next door so there’s a lot of familiarity there,” Pickett said. “But that’s really kind of off-the-field stuff. The on-the-field stuff is all new. It’s a new system and being an NFL rookie is new. But I think it definitely helps me off the field for sure. I think it’s a great fit.”
Pickett follows several NFL stars who have trained at TEST. Joe Flacco, the 2013 Super Bowl MVP with Baltimore and current Jets backup quarterback, and eight-time Pro Bowl cornerback Patrick Peterson head that list.
“Kenny is a winner. He knows exactly what it takes,” said TEST Football Academy owner/CEO Kevin Dunn, who is adding a second location at the Ansin Sports Complex in Miramar, Florida.
TEST will have the only combine prep facility in South Florida that strictly focuses on skill positions. The 23-acre campus is the home for TEST’s 40-yard dash specialist Ato Boldon, a four-time Olympic sprint medalist and current track and field analyst for NBC Sports.