2020 Training Camp Battles: Backup Free Safety

With our series breaking down each position on the roster completed, it’s time to turn our focus on what is going on within each position, and on the roster as a whole. Over the course of the next few weeks, we will be taking a closer look at some of the roster battles that we expect to see unfold over the course of training camp as the Pittsburgh Steelers prepare for the start of the 2020 season.

This is not a conventional offseason, of course, for obvious reasons, which is likely to play a role in many of these battles, some in ways that we might not foresee. Generally speaking, it should favor players who have greater experience, but there’s a reason these questions are left unanswered until we get on the field.

Position: Free Safety

Up for Grabs: Top Backup

In the Mix: Jordan Dangerfield, Marcus Allen, Antoine Brooks, Tyree Kinnel, John Battle, Cameron Sutton, Mike Hilton, Terrell Edmunds, Curtis Riley

For the sake of completion, I’m just going to throw in every possible name for this conversation. That includes every safety on the roster who is not the starting safety—Minkah Fitzpatrick—including the starting strong safety—Terrell Edmunds—as well as two cornerbacks with position flexibility—Mike Hilton and Cameron Sutton.

There was a time last season, or perhaps it was 2018, in which Hilton told reporters essentially that he was the number two or number three free safety. I can’t remember specifically, but either he was planned to be the next man up or after Edmunds, should he slide over.

Last year, the Steelers started Kameron Kelly, a first-year former undrafted free agent, at free safety in the season opener, due to Sean Davis’ injury. Because of that, we certainly can’t rule out the possibility of a player like Tyree Kinnel suddenly emerging out of nowhere, though for Kelly, he had a fully offseason’s worth of work to prove himself to the coaching staff on the field.

Dangerfield, Allen, and Brooks have the highest pedigree of the backup safeties on this list in terms of draft position or tenure, but all of them profile almost strictly as strong safeties. Edmunds has the athleticism to play free safety, but they didn’t play him there in last year’s opener when Davis was out.

As for the cornerbacks, Hilton did play safety in a preseason game last year, and he actually looked pretty effective doing it. I honestly wouldn’t have a problem with him being regarded as the number two free safety.

Sutton has also supposedly done it in practice settings, but has never done it in the preseason. During regular season situations, he may have rotated into a free safety look due to a certain rush that the team wanted to present, but he hasn’t had tape of him really playing the position.

The Steelers added Curtis Riley after I originally finished writing this, signing the veteran after Justin Layne was placed on the reserve/Covid-19 list. While he is no gamebreaker, for sure, he should instantly become a viable option despite the offseason conditions given his background and the inexperience of his competition.

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