PITTSBURGH (AP) — Looking back, Mitch Trubisky needed a year to watch from the sideline.
To hit reset. To catch a glimpse of what a healthy relationship between a quarterback and coach looked like.
To get a feel for the vibe permeating through a building for an organization trying to win at the highest level.
When he hit the open market earlier this week, Trubisky had two simple requests: find a place where he’ll have a chance to start, preferably a team where “culture” isn’t an empty catchphrase but an entrenched part of the club’s firmament.
Enter Pittsburgh, which rushed to sign the former second overall pick in the NFL draft to a two-year contract this week, giving the 27-year-old a shot at replacing Ben Roethlisberger in the process.
There was no selling. Trubisky didn’t have to be sold.
“My goal throughout free agency was to find a way to get back on the field,” Trubisky said Thursday, just minutes after his deal with the Steelers became official. “When an opportunity arose to play for coach (Mike) Tomlin and wear a Pittsburgh Steelers uniform, I was so excited. Now I’m ready to roll and get to it.”
More like, get back to it. Trubisky arrived in Chicago five years ago with the burden of massive expectations he struggled to shoulder during four wildly uneven seasons.
The Bears won games with him under center — his career record is a respectable 29-21 — but it was difficult to decipher at times whether Chicago succeeded because of him or in spite of him. A seemingly turbulent relationship with then-head coach Matt Nagy didn’t help.
Trubisky declined to get into specifics about his time with the Bears, describing it as a “learning experience.”
“All you can do is continue to work for your future but draw on your past experiences to make sure the future goes better,” he said. “So that’s what I’m hoping to do.”
Trubisky spent 2021 serving as the primary backup behind Josh Allen in Buffalo, which he called “a blessing in disguise,” and his description of his time with the Bills is telling of how things disintegrated in Chicago.
“I think I learned a lot,” he said. “I was in a great organization and the first thing that I really learned when (I got) to Buffalo is what a great culture feels like and I already feel like that here.”
Trubisky steps into the first true open quarterback competition in Pittsburgh in a generation after Roethlisberger retired in January following an 18-year career that included a pair of Super Bowl titles, an appearance in another and a bust in the Hall of Fame in Canton, Ohio, all but assured.
Mason Rudolph is the most experienced incumbent, and outgoing general manager Kevin Colbert — who is stepping down after the draft — has made it a point to repeatedly stress the team is comfortable with Rudolph serving as the full-time starter.
Whether that happens likely depends on how quickly or how well Trubisky gets a grasp of Matt Canada’s offense.
The Steelers were average at best during Canada’s first season as offensive coordinator in 2021. They are bringing him back for a second look and Trubisky’s mobility could give Canada the kind of flexibility the offense lacked with the stationary Roethlisberger.
“I’m looking forward to utilizing my dual-threat abilities … using my legs running to buying more time or running for first downs,” Trubisky said.
He will do it behind an offensive line that will have a decidedly different look than the one that allowed 38 sacks and finished 29th in yards rushing last season. The Steelers signed interior offensive linemen Mason Cole and James Daniels in free agency. Daniels spent three seasons blocking for Trubisky in Chicago. The two reconnected in person on Thursday, ready for the real work to begin.
“We’ve got a bunch of great guys up front,” Trubisky said. “They’re going to set the tone for this team.”
Maybe, but they’ll do it largely in anonymity. Trubisky won’t have that luxury either way. The length of his contract makes this season an extended tryout of sorts. He understands he’s betting on himself in a way and he’s well aware of the skepticism his signing engendered among a fan base that hasn’t endured a losing season in nearly two decades.
“Hopefully I just win them over by the way I play on the field,” he said.
A level of play he believes will be elevated from what he showed in Chicago. Watching Allen and Bills offensive coordinator Brian Daboll (now the head coach with the New York Giants) collaborate while helping Buffalo come within seconds of a second consecutive appearance in the AFC title game helped restore his confidence that he can thrive if given the right situation.
Asked what he learned with the Bills, Trubisky didn’t hesitate.
“(The importance of) communication between QB and play-caller, just the trust,” he said. “When you have great trust and communication between QB and play-caller, you’re able to play free.”
A freedom Trubisky is eager to discover in Pittsburgh, even if it comes with the pressure of replacing an icon.
“What Ben did here, it was special,” he said. “We want to continue the legacy he started.”
NOTES: The Steelers cut veteran linebacker Joe Schobert on Thursday, a move that saved them nearly $8 million against the salary cap and paved the way for them to bring in former Jacksonville inside linebacker Myles Jack on a two-year deal.