As the Pittsburgh Steelers prepare to open the season against the San Francisco 49ers in Week 1, head coach Mike Tomlin delivered his support for quarterback Kenny Pickett, saying he believes he has become an emotional leader of the team.

Pickett struggled throughout much of his rookie season with the Steelers, but he did make significant progress in the final weeks of the season. He completed 245 of 389 passes for 2,404 yards with 7 touchdowns and 9 interceptions.

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Tomlin was a guest on Rich Eisen's program, and he explained what he likes about Pickett's progress and what he sees that has a chance to make him  a much improved quarterback.

“I think he individually is probably a good representative of what I've been talking about,” Tomlin said of Pickett. “The dude comes to compete everyday. He loves it. He's getting better, he's getting more comfortable in his shoes in terms of the informal responsibility that comes with being him.”

Tomlin also pointed out that Pickett has been a leader at various points during his football career, but it's a much different accomplishment at the NFL level.

“We all kind of know what that is, the quarterback is the heartbeat of a unit — he's been that before. But it's the first time at this level. I think he's more comfortable in those shoes.”

The Steelers face tremendous competition this season in the AFC North division. The Cincinnati Bengals are favored behind quarterback Joe Burrow, and the Baltimore Ravens appear to have a loaded offense with Lamar Jackson under center as well as a dangerous supporting cast.

If Kenny Pickett is up to the challenge, the Steelers may be able to challenge both of those teams.