PITTSBURGH — Kenny Pickett felt fine at first. After absorbing a big hit from Ravens linebacker Roquan Smith and hitting his head on the turf, the Steelers‘ rookie quarterback exited the Week 14 game and went into the blue injury tent on the sideline to be evaluated for a concussion.
He was cleared and reentered the game on the Steelers’ next drive. But over the course of the quick three-play series, Pickett noticed changes in his vision setting in. That’s when he knew something was wrong and self-reported his symptoms when he came off the field.
“I thought I was good to go, felt good,” Pickett said Thursday. “And I got back out there and started running, and they started coming into play more. I’m moving and things are going fast. That’s when symptoms started to come up, and I had to go inside.
“… I came off the field, was not feeling good, so that’s why I went in.”
Pickett was limited in practice during the week that followed, and though he felt better by the end of the week, he decided it was safest to hold off on returning to action until after the Week 15 game against the Carolina Panthers.
“I went through with the doctors and listened to what they said,” Pickett said. “And definitely the right call was not to play last week. I could have kind of pushed it. But I think the right choice was to sit out one week and be full go this week.”
Pickett was officially cleared from concussion protocol earlier this week, and he will start against the Las Vegas Raiders, coach Mike Tomlin said Tuesday. After the concussion — his second in eight weeks — Pickett switched to a different helmet on the recommendation of team medical staff.
Now, he’s wearing a helmet equipped with a special design and padding on the back to cushion Pickett’s head in the event of another violent hit against the ground. Tight end Pat Freiermuth wears a similarly sized helmet after also suffering multiple concussions over his first two NFL seasons.
Pickett added a visor to his face mask, not because of light sensitivity, but because one mask he tried obstructed his vision and the other left too much unprotected space.
“The face-mask gap is too wide,” Pickett said. “I don’t know who designed this one, but it’s just a little too wide where a fist can literally go through it. I don’t wanna get punched in the face on Saturday, so I was like, ‘You know what, I’ll probably wear a visor, and we’ll be good to go.'”
Pickett’s concussion, which he said had more severe symptoms and lingered longer than his first, happened when he escaped one would-be sack and tried to extend the play before Smith brought him down.
And while offensive coordinator Matt Canada acknowledged Pickett might’ve done that play differently — potentially throwing the ball away after escape the first sack attempt — if given a re-do, Pickett said the concussions aren’t going to drastically affect the way he plays with his designed runs or how he takes risks.
“It just, it comes with the position,” he said. “It comes with playing football, and it’s going to happen. I was lucky early in my career and in college really not having many concussions or at all really experiencing what I’ve experienced these past two. It happens. It’s football.”