Tim Benz: The tough schedule at the start of the season is bound to affect the Steelers’ starters

Pittsburgh Steelers’ tight end Pat Frymouth stopped and gave some honest attention before answering the question.

At what point in last year’s junior season did you stop to think and feel like you really know the cold rules of the game?

“Honestly, it was the first game I really had, where I felt comfortable doing things, it was the first game we played in Cincinnati,” he said. “The third week of last year. (This is) when I felt really comfortable knowing what other people were doing and where I had to be at certain times. That was really the first week.”

This could have been a game at Heinz Field as the Steelers lost to the Bengals 24-10, but it also featured in Freiermuth’s first NFL touchdown.

“I think Pat is blowing smoke now. I think it took a little bit longer,” said Steelers captain Cameron Heyward, laughing. “Everyone is different. But you don’t know what you don’t know. If you were thrown into a fire from the start, you expect it from there. You get better with the actors. And it will be important for our youth to take pre-season seriously, especially with the way we have started the season.”

To Hayward’s point, the compressed timeframe for rookies to be good early is particularly relevant for the Steelers this year considering they have a brutal six-game challenge to start the season. And they might have come in with the quarterback in the first round of Pete-led Kenny Pickett’s rookie renewal pick if he wins the job over Mitch Trubesky and Mason Rudolph.

The Steelers begin the year with a road game against the defending champions Cincinnati Bengals, a home date against the New England Patriots, and then a road game Thursday night in Cleveland.

After a slight respite in front of the Jets in Week 4, the Steelers have to go to the East Asian champions Buffalo Bills and then play a home game against the defending NFC South champions, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

The Steelers coaching staff would never admit this, but these six season-extended games will certainly influence the decision-making when it comes to how much playing time they want to give their starters.

Especially with Beckett in the middle.

How is this not the case? think about it. This six-match kit to start 2022 features:

• Three matches in 12 days to start the year. Two of these games are road division competitions. The other is against Bill Belichick and the Patriots.

• Four playoff teams from last year, including a conference champion and three tag team teams.

• Matches against both Belichick and Tom Brady.

Challenging tasks, especially for a potential midfielder starting in the junior season.

“You always have to be on your bolts early,” Beckett said last week. “I’m not too concerned about getting games short in a short amount of time. I’m just interested in getting better every day. They throw a lot at us. I’m making a step up and being the best QB I can be out there.”

The tough schedule throws the key in what has always been my back-up argument regarding how the Steelers will handle their decision on who will start 2022 in the middle.

I’ve long said that all things being equal, they are not. In other words, if Beckett is in a 50-50 fight with Trubisky or Rudolph, the team should go with the man who will be the future QB franchise off the bat.

In other words, if there is a coin toss, coach Mike Tomlin has to leave the coin in his pocket. Just name the 24-year-old with 49 career colleges starting on his resume, who was seen as the most ready-made NFL quarterback in the draft as the team’s quarterback walked out of training camp.

This schedule, however, makes me pause. Is it too compact and too hard to throw Beckett into a fire? I think he can.

“I know we’re playing the Bengals the first week,” Beckett said. “After that, I don’t really know. I’m just closed off on what I should do. The rest will take care of itself if I’m mentally locked up.”

For his part, though, Rudolph says Beckett and fellow QB rookie Chris Oldcon are dealing with the offense.

“They were good,” said Rudolph. Their heads spin a little. They have a lot of questions. But they picked things up quickly. I remember being a beginner, and you see that hunger in both of them for the desire to learn. To stay later and ask questions.”

However, Rudolph sees the challenges the schedule creates for any newbie QB.

“Bypass the junior wall, the learning curve. You start to become more comfortable. … This is our job to help these guys overcome those obstacles,” said Rudolph.

It wouldn’t be Beckett alone who would have to take off quickly if he started right away in year one. The Steelers may also be relying heavily on junior receivers George Pickens and Calvin Austin III, as well as first-year defensive factor DeMarvin Leal. They also have to be up to speed quickly if the Steelers are to be able to count on them for success within the first six weeks.

“Three games in 12 days, it’s coming soon and you have to be ready. You always have to be ready to play,” Pickens said.

It better be. The same can be said for all the beginners in the Steelers. Beckett and beyond. Because as long as the NFL season lasts, it’s very possible to cast the tone for the Steelers 2022 campaign before Halloween decorations appear around Pittsburgh.

Tim Benz is a Tribune Review writer. You can contact Tim at tbenz@triblive.com or via Twitter. All tweets can be reposted. All emails are subject to posting unless otherwise stated.