Given their general history, the Pittsburgh Steelers have gained a surprising amount of experience in recent years in running out their defense with rookies in the starting lineup, even if they don’t immediately start. A rookie has been a meaningful starter for this group in every season since 2013, or arguably even 2012 if you include Vince Williams that year.
The past two seasons in particular have been significant, however, first with T.J. Watt being a wall-to-wall starter in 2017 and now with first-round pick Terrell Edmunds nearly so as well. He started the season opener and rotated with Morgan Burnett that week and next, but has been pretty much the full-time starter at strong safety for the past 12 games.
In all, he has logged 852 defensive snaps so far on the season, which is the 27th-most among safeties this year. On Tuesday, Head Coach Mike Tomlin was asked if there is a point during such a player’s rookie season in which you stop viewing him as a rookie and raise your expectations for him.
“You can get into that little cute wordplay if you want and motivate guys to play beyond their years, or you can use it as an excuse”, he said in response. “The bottom line is that we’ve been playing a lot of ball with him all year, and we expect him to play above-the-line, winning football like the other guys that have been on the field a lot”.
Edmunds has played the second-most defensive snaps on the team short of fellow safety Sean Davis, who has played 915 snaps on the season. The rookie recorded six tackles in Sunday’s win over the New England Patriots and now has 68 on the season to go along with a sack, an interception, and four passes defensed, as well as a recovered fumble.
“He is who he is, he’s a rookie. He still is a rookie, he’ll be a rookie all year and into the playoffs if that’s a part of his story”, Tomlin went on. “But he’s done a good job, he’s gotten better every week. He’s continuing to gain detail and understanding in his play along with the other guys who are getting an opportunity to contribute, and that’s where our focus is”.
In addition to his defensive playing time, Edmunds has also seen over 200 snaps on special teams this year, including every snap of the year on the punt coverage unit. This is a far bigger body of work then the team envisioned for him as a rookie when they drafted him.
But as Tomlin said, he has been getting better over the course of the season, and has had some of his best games in recent weeks, particularly against the Patriots and Los Angeles Chargers. They’ll need another big one from him this Sunday against Drew Brees and the New Orleans Saints.