Steelers Preaching Versatility In Defensive Backfield

Doran Grant

He is certainly not unique in this, but among the things that Pittsburgh Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin is perhaps best known for is his constant preaching of his players’ ability to “wear multiple hats”—that is, to do multiple things, to be versatile, and thus to make yourself more useful to the team.

Whether it’s playing multiple positions or simply learning to make yourself useful on special teams, all players on the fringe of the roster are virtually required to demonstrate some level of versatility in order to stick to an NFL roster, and that is only becoming more true as the game becomes more multiple, especially in the secondary.

We see that in the Steelers’ own secondary, in which many of their defensive backs have shown or have the prospects of being able to line up at multiple spots, whether it is a cornerback who can play some safety or a safety taking on some responsibilities.

In terms of the current roster, it really started with Robert Golden, an undrafted free agent in 2012. He spent his first two seasons in college playing cornerback before he was moved to safety with an eye toward the draft.

The Steelers signed him to play safety, but also with the knowledge of his experience on the boundary, and, in fact, during his rookie season, he was called upon to log a handful of snaps at cornerback due to mounting injuries at the position at the time.

While he is seen as a safety, of course, he does get used over the slot in select situations, as was frequently the case late last season when the Steelers used their quarter package to get him on the field in obvious passing situations.

Fourth-year safety Shamarko Thomas, too, was drafted knowing that he had experience covering wide receivers in college, and the Steeler used him in the slot during his rookie season until he suffered an ankle injury. He has, of course, struggled to see the field defensively since that, though that is beside the point being made.

Recently, Pittsburgh drafted cornerback Doran Grant, and never shied away from talking about him as a prospective safety transition in some capacity, at some point down the road. Though he never formally played the position even in practice at Ohio State, he was seen as a player capable of handling that role, and he’s begun to get work at safety in recent days.

Finally, of course, there is the biggest acquisition in the group, second-round rookie safety Sean Davis, who is spending the bulk of his practice time working with the first-team defense in the slot, a role that he is likely to fill, barring something disastrous, this year.

Due to injuries and ineffectiveness, the Steelers’ secondary depth is thin overall, but due to the versatility that several of their defensive backs hold, it may be the case that they are able to get away with, or are at least more willing to, carry a lesser number of them than they have been used to in recent years.

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