Pitt QB Kenny Pickett has big fan in offensive coordinator Shawn Watson |

Pitt QB Kenny Pickett has big fan in offensive coordinator Shawn Watson

Chris Adamski
Chaz Palla | Tribune-Review
Pitt quarterback Kenny Pickett dives over Miami's Amari Carter for a second-quarter touchdown Friday, Nov. 24, 2017 at Heinz Field.

Less than six months after his college debut, not much more than a year out of high school and with all of one career Pitt start on his résumé, it’s abundantly clear quarterback Kenny Pickett has earned the respect and trust of one the most important people around him.

Pitt offensive coordinator Shawn Watson, it seems, can’t say enough good things about his rising sophomore quarterback.

Speaking at UPMC Rooney Sports Complex after the ninth session of Pitt’s spring practices, Watson was effusive in his praise of Pickett, who engineered an upset of No. 2 Miami in his first career start last November.

“I believe we have (a championship quarterback) with Kenny,” Watson said at one point Thursday. “I really do. I think he’s going to be really special.”

Watson doubles as the Panthers quarterbacks coach and has 17 seasons of experience as a major-college offensive coordinator.

“Kenny has impressed from Day 1 he walked on this campus,” Watson said. “He did me, and I think he did our entire staff. We felt like he was going to be a project in developing, but once we could get him developed he could be something real special, which he has proven to be.”

Watson, who has coached at eight Power 5 conference schools, compared Pickett to one of the most prominent quarterbacks he mentored during that time: former Big East offensive player of the year and first-round NFL Draft pick Teddy Bridgewater.

“(Pickett) is way ahead — way ahead — of where a freshman would have been because it comes so easy to him,” Watson said. “I made a statement the other day — and I don’t want to put a burden on his back — but he’s the same type of student and same type of player, with his natural instinctual part of it, as Teddy Bridgewater. He’s the same guy — and Teddy was a fast study.”

Watson praised Pickett’s decision-making, grasp of the offense, ability to pick up things mentally and arm.

Rafael Araujo-Lopes, who led the team in receptions last season, also is a fan.

“I am a believer in Kenny Picket,” Araujo-Lopes said. “Every single day he’s coming in, he’s working. He’s communicating. He’s coming to work every single day, and he’s definitely bringing ‘A’ game every day.”

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About the only person at Pitt, it seems, who isn’t gushing about Pickett these days is the Panthers head coach. Perhaps in attempt to ease the burden of expectations on his young quarterback, or maybe just because he wants to prevent Pickett’s head from getting too big, Pat Narduzzi is more measured.

“The bar is up here,” Narduzzi said while gesturing, palm-down, at eye level, “and he still has a way to go in my opinion.

“But he is a super kid, he is working his tail off and I think he can be a great quarterback. But, you know what? You get measured on game day. It’s still spring ball.”

Pickett appeared in four late-season games last season, including going 18 for 29 for 193 yards and no interceptions in addition to 60 rushing yards on 13 carries during his first start.

“Kenny has picked up where he left off, and he keeps advancing himself,” Watson said. “I think he’s going to be tremendous — really tremendous. I’m really happy with what he’s done so far. He’s been very consistent, played at a high level.”

Chris Adamski is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at [email protected] or via Twitter @C_AdamskiTrib.

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