According to safety Sean Davis, the Pittsburgh Steelers did not really make clear to him the plan to move him to free safety until they arrived as Saint Vincent College for training camp earlier this week. Not that he didn’t already know that it was a possibility, or that it would be an issue for him to make that move from strong safety.
The Steelers were in the market for a new free safety after they released Mike Mitchell in March. Signed in 2014 to take over that spot from Ryan Clark, Mitchell made it through four years on his five-year contract, during which he accumulated a total of four interceptions, three of which came in 2015.
Davis has recorded four interceptions during his first two seasons, including three in 2017, his first as a full-time starter. He spent his rookie season opening the year in the nickel and began rotating at strong safety with Robert Golden in the second half of the season before taking over the job on a full-time basis.
He is hoping that playing at the back end will present him with more opportunity to take the ball out of the air, and believes he has the skillset and relevant experience he can call upon to really engage in that role of centerfielder.
“I have a good background of baseball playing center field [in high school], seeing the ball off the bat, judging things, so I feel like I am going to use all of that stuff to my advantage to track the ball, to not get tricked by savvy quarterbacks and just use my speed to fly around and get more interceptions”, he told reporters yesterday at training camp.
The Steelers have not had a true centerfielder-type of player at the free safety position in quite a while. Pardon me if I’m leaving somebody particularly notable out, but I believe the last real ballhawk at the position was Darren Perry, who recorded 35 interceptions, 32 coming in his seven seasons in Pittsburgh. He had at least four interceptions in six consecutive years and had five or more on three occasions.
While Clark was rightfully respected for the role that he played in the Steelers’ defense for many years, even rising to the level of Pro Bowler, he was never the traditional centerfielder. He played for 13 seasons and only intercepted 16 passes. He recorded more than two interceptions in a single season twice, never more than three, and only had double-digit plays on the ball once.
Can Davis be that kind of player? Last season, over 16 games, he recorded three interceptions with eight passes defensed, at least two of which off the top of my head directly prevented touchdowns from scoring.
Time will tell, and Davis will learn with the rest of us. “It’s something new to me, something new for us”, the third-year defensive back admitted, “so I am just using this time to develop my skills and get better so I can make the defense better”.