During his Tuesday press conference, Pittsburgh Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin did his usual praising of the team’s upcoming opponent ahead of Monday night’s game against the Washington Redskins and that included him spending time talking about how good their secondary is and what a formidable challenge they’ll likely be. When Tomlin finally was ready to take questions, he was asked if he’s comfortable where his own secondary currently is at heading into the team’s first game of the 2016 regular season.
“Ask me about midnight or so on Monday,” said Tomlin. “No, and I say that, but I’m comfortable where our guys are, but the proof is in the pudding and I’ve always been a believer in that. We can sit around in these type settings and scare ourselves to death, or we can sit around in these settings and talk about how great the unit is. The reality is that the tape is going to be their walking, talking, breathing resume. So they’re focused on providing good tape and I’m focused on watching them provide good tape.”
The Redskins have several weapons on the offensive side of the football with one of them being tight end Jordan Reed, who caught 87 passes last season for 952 yards and 11 touchdowns, and Tomlin talked about the challenge he’ll present his secondary Monday night.
“Jordan Reed, their tight end, is a great interior possession guy,” said Tomlin. “He’s got great rapport and timing with [Kurt] Cousins is highlighted big-time on third down, but is highlighted on just any down. He works the interior of the field and is adept at doing it. He’s a big matchup issue for safeties, he’s an athleticism matchup issue for linebackers. We’ve got to be smart and thoughtful about how we choose to cover him and quite frankly, it’s going to probably require a number of schematic approaches and personnel approaches to minimize his impact on the game.”
One of those schematic approaches the Steelers could potentially choose to use to minimize Reed could wind up being their dime package, which is something we saw the defense use quite a bit at the end of the 2015 season. Tomlin was asked about that being a possibility on Tuesday.
“That’s a possibility and I’ve seen people do it, but he’s [Reed] a highly productive player regardless of circumstance,” said Tomlin. “So like I said, it’s not one particular package or approach that’s probably going to be an effective one. We better be versatile in our approach to working to minimize his impact on the game.”
Because rookie safety Sean Davis was used extensively during the preseason as the team’s starting nickel corner, Tomlin was first asked if that will continue on into the regular season and additionally, if the team were to utilize a dime package, who would be the be the next defensive back on the field.
“We’ve got some veteran guys that are capable whether it’s Will Gay or Robert Golden, but the same can be said about nickel,” said Tomlin. “We’ve given Sean Davis a lot of work at nickel, but we’ve got some veteran guys that have logged a lot of time at that position so we haven’t necessarily given them in-stadium reps. We’ve got big-time versatility on the back-end in terms of how we can utilize people because of the veteran presence of guys like William Gay and Robert Golden and we’re going to lean on it.”
While Tomlin certainly isn’t one to fully tip his hand, it really sounds like we could see William Gay or Robert Golden play in the slot Monday night against the Redskins with Davis possibly seeing time at safety when it comes to the team’s nickel package. With that said, it’s still unclear as to which player might ultimately be used as a sixth defensive back should the team decide to use their dime sub package at times.
While Davis did play in the slot quite a bit during the preseason, he also logged time at safety and that’s where he seemed to be the most comfortable. For all we know, Tomlin and defensive coordinator Keith Butler might wait to roll out their dime defense until later on in the season when either young cornerbacks Artie Burns, or the newly acquired Justin Gilbert are ready to contribute. Needles to say, it will be interesting to watch what happens Monday night against the Redskins when it comes to the schematic approaches the team chooses to utilize on the defensive side of the football. Will Davis be the slot defender, or will he be asked to play safety in the team’s sub package defenses? We’ll find out in less than a week from now.