While the Pittsburgh Steelers may have suffered the misfortune of having their second-round cornerback go down for the season with a torn labrum, it seems as though the other cornerback that they selected, Doran Grant, is acclimating himself well thus far to life in the NFL.
The fourth-round pick had the opportunity to make his contributions count on Sunday on both defense and special teams, defending both passes targeted in his coverage in addition to making a special teams tackle, and showing the awareness to scoop up what initially seemed to be a muffed punt that he chaperoned into the end zone.
Grant did not have the opportunity to get onto the field until the second half, but on his first opportunity, he made a play, being the first one down the field as the left side gunner and making the tackle after a 10-yard gain that was negated by a holding penalty.
Grant still had to wait his turn to see the field on defense, but after his teammates forced a punt, he served as a vice jammer on the return team’s right side, managing to throw a block in the process. It was on the next punt that Grant scooped up the ball, even though it was later ruled that the returner never touched it.
The rookie’s success on special teams should not be seen as a surprise, given he has a background in performing such tasks in spite of being a starter on a national championship team. It is the skill set that is more likely to get him a helmet on game days than for his ability to cover wide receivers.
Not that the Steelers drafted him to be a special teams player, of course, and he did perform well in the game at cornerback—improved, in fact, from his shaky start in the second preseason game, when he missed a tackle on his first snap.
Early in the fourth quarter, the Packers tried going at the rookie cornerback on third down, targeting him on a quick slant, but Grant made a nice recovery at the line and stuck to the wide receiver, getting his hand out in front of the pass to force an incompletion and a punt.
The clear highlight for Grant, however, came later in the fourth quarter when he was targeted on a deep ball. He showed impeccable anticipation in timing his jump, getting full extension with his outside arm to interfere with the receiver’s ability to make a play on the ball. Unfortunately the Packers preseason crew did not see fit to show replays of either of these plays made by Grant, thus our inability to provide a better look at said plays.
It was a good showing for the rookie, who is doing his best to present himself as a reliable boundary defender in spite of his inexperience at the professional level. Grant is at best fifth on the depth chart, and that is unlikely to change between now and the start of the season, but perhaps that could change over the course of the year.