Ever since the Pittsburgh Steelers signed free agent safety Nat Berhe to a one year, $880,000 contract in early April, the general consensus has been that he would ultimately make the team’s 53-man roster this year and especially with him having a strong special teams resume since entering the NFL in 2014 with the New York Giants as a fifth-round draft pick. However, with the Steelers now beginning preparations to play their third preseason game of 2018, you have to wonder of Berhe is a lock to make the 53-man roster right now.
Not that you can read a lot into it, but Steelers special teams coordinator Danny Smith used running back Fitzgerald Toussaint as the starting personal protector on the punt team instead of Berhe Thursday night against the Green Bay Packers. Toussaint has worked at that position in past preseasons so once again, it’s hard to read too terribly much into the decision to let him start on the punt coverage team Thursday night. Additionally, it’s worth pointing out that Berhe did get some work as the personal protector in the second half and he also started the preseason opener against the Philadelphia Eagles there as well. Berhe, as you would expect, also registered two special teams tackles against the Packers Thursday night.
Defensively, Berhe has stood out on tape as a safety during the first two preseason games but not in a great way. Sure, he has registered 5 total tackles on defense in his first two preseason games with the Steelers but him allowing Packers wide receiver Jake Kumerow to turn him around and ultimately beat him to the end zone for a touchdown after a short reception along the left side line Thursday night certainly brought back some all too familiar memories from previous seasons. Even Steelers rookie undrafted free agent line backer Matthew Thomas outran Berhe on the way to chasing Kumerow into the end zone. Berhe, by the way, is the smaller of the two.
— Green Bay Packers (@packers) August 17, 2018
Berhe, for whatever it’s worth, has been considered the Steelers back up free safety since he was signed. Quite honestly, he’s probably a better strong safety than he is a free safety at this point of his NFL career and thus better suited to play closer to the line of scrimmage. If the Steelers feel they might have a better option than Berhe when it comes to backup free safety candidates, you have to wonder in Berhe’s supreme special team abilities will ultimately be enough reason to keep him on the 53-man roster and especially if the Steelers only wind up keeping four safeties in total.
If starting free safety Sean Davis were to go down injured, would you want to see Berhe start in his place for several games? I’m not so sure I would. Personally, I’d probably much rather take my chances with veteran safety Morgan Burnett or rookie safety Terrell Edmunds on the backend than I would Berhe. Heck, maybe even second-year cornerback Cameron Sutton would be a better option.
The Steelers third preseason game is generally viewed as a tuneup one for the regular season so it will be interesting to see if Berhe starts on the punt team and if he’s allowed to play a lot of snaps as a deep free safety against the Tennessee Titans next Saturday night as well. With him being a newcomer, you would think he would. If however, Toussaint starts over Berhe again against the Titans on special teams and if the safety doesn’t log a lot of playing time on defense in that game, perhaps thers a good chance he won’t ultimately make the 53-man roster this year.
Should Berhe ultimately not make the 53-man roster this year and the Steelers still decide to keep just four safeties in total, perhaps Jordan Dangerfield will be the player kept. Dangerfield, like Berhe, is an asset on special teams and he should know the defense and both safety roles really well as long as he’s been in Pittsburgh.