Mark Madden: Steelers should delay culture shock for Kenny Pickett until after Patriots matchup

These refreshing sports notes are locked in a battle to see who starts! (Not really. But that’s a deception you like to buy into.)

• Kenny Pickett has looked great in preseason games. But he’s faced defenses that were 100% vanilla. Plenty of media experts want Pickett to start Week 1. So do the citizens. But think about Week 2: Pickett against New England and Bill Belichick’s defense. It’s best to wait. Mitch Trubisky hasn’t lost the job, anyway. Pickett will experience culture shock whenever he first plays in the regular season. But Belichick might crush Pickett’s soul. Like legendary Steelers defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau did to so many rookie quarterbacks.

• The quarterback “competition” was never a competition. Media who presented it as such took the lazy route to content.

• Mason Rudolph deserves credit for his professionalism. He probably got lied to about having a chance to start. Rudolph likely believed that lie. Rudolph has had a very good preseason to date. He never complained. He always competes and gives 100%. Rudolph is a competent backup and a credit to the Steelers.

• Week 3 at Cleveland will determine the direction of the Steelers’ season. If the Steelers can’t beat the Browns with Jacoby Brissett at quarterback, the Steelers aren’t a playoff team. You can’t just be better than the bad teams. (But then you can turn to Pickett.)

• When the Steelers sift through other teams’ cut lists to find depth at edge rusher, remember this: They should have started Melvin Ingram ahead of Alex Highsmith last season. Ingram wouldn’t have asked out. Ingram might still be here. Highsmith has been mostly mediocre. That situation got mangled.

• If the Steelers are to be in playoff contention all season, guard James Daniels has to provide glue on the offensive line; cornerback Ahkello Witherspoon must perform like he did at last season’s end; Highsmith has to be better than average; Larry Ogunjobi must make the defensive line dominant; receiver Chase Claypool and tight end Pat Freiermuth have to use their size to make plays in the middle of the field and in the red zone; an inside linebacker besides Myles Jack has to not stink.

• Aaron Donald of the Los Angeles Rams ripped the helmets off two Cincinnati Bengals and swung them with malicious intent during a joint practice Thursday. If Cleveland’s Myles Garrett got suspended six games for swinging one helmet in 2019. Donald should get at least the same. It occurred in practice, but that doesn’t lessen the danger. But, according to the NFL, teams are responsible for disciplining their practices.

• The idea of joint practices is dumb. Why? Because things can spiral out of control like they did with Donald. That’s a lot less likely in a normal practice. If something untoward does occur, it’s easier to keep in-house. What’s gained in joint practices? If teams need an extra preseason game, add back the one that got chopped off.

More Mark Madden

• Mark Madden: Offensive line is a monument to Steelers mismanagement
• Mark Madden’s Hot Take: Steelers have to manage Kenny Pickett’s future sensibly
• Mark Madden: Devin Bush’s disappointing play, attitude have impact on entire Steelers defense

• Phil Kessel signed a one-year contract with Vegas for $1.5 million. He might lose more than that at Vegas’ poker tables. His deal should include comped meals. Kessel likes to bet. He’ll be happy in Vegas, if potentially bankrupt. Too bad the Golden Knights stink now. They peaked in their expansion year and have been badly mismanaged since.

• If Kessel plays the season’s first eight games, he becomes the NHL’s all-time leader in consecutive games played at 990. Which totally delegitimizes the record. Kessel plays like it’s no-check men’s league. He never throws a hit and rarely absorbs one. Kessel is the furthest thing from an “iron man.” Respect the player, but not that record.

• Oneil Cruz hit a single that traveled 122.4 mph on Wednesday. That’s a Statcast record, whatever that means. The Pirates lost that game, 14-2. Cruz is hitting .199. The Pirates are 30 games under .500. But that 122.4 mph single made headlines. Owner Bob Nutting will never feel pressured to win if the positive always get accentuated.

• What’s better, a single that travels 122.4 mph or a double that travels at a less spectacular speed?

• A local publication ran a column asking Nutting if he’s proud of what the Pirates are and telling him Roberto Clemente would be ashamed. Nutting is proud. He’s running the Pirates exactly as he intended when he bought them: To maximize profit and increase the franchise’s value. Nutting might not be 100% sure who Clemente is. Sacrificing even a fraction of profit for the sake of winning is not on Nutting’s agenda.

• Clemente is a Pirates icon. He’s the team’s greatest player. He spent his whole career in Pittsburgh. But if Clemente played for the Pirates now, his exit velocity would be measured by how fast he escaped Pittsburgh after hitting free agency.

• The PGA has enhanced its tour to the tune of its golfers making many more millions. Rory McIlroy and his self-righteous ilk should send a thank-you note to LIV golf. LIV was the catalyst for the PGA paying out what it should have been paying long ago. A rival league has never been bad for any sport.

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