If there’s any moment that sums up the blurred lines between positions, it’s corners and safeties working in linebacker drills during practice. Evidently at Saturday night’s session, Marcus Allen and Mike Hilton saw action in the famed backs on ‘backers drill. Tomlin was asked why he used those two men in a typical LB drill.
“We rotated a lot of secondary guys down to running backs versus linebacker like competition because particularly the safety position is linebacker like,” Tomlin said after practice. “Yesterday in an attack drill, we brought Mike Hilton and Antoine Brooks down with the linebackers. Today, in a blitz drill we bought Mike Hilton and Marcus Allen. So some of those safeties, particularly those that play in the box, we bring them down to running back competition because the responsibilities of their job are linebacker like.”
In the era of nickel defense being your base, Hilton has a heavy role in the run game. He has run fits, he blitzes, and is one of the top run-stopping cornerbacks in football. Though undersized, he’s as physical as anyone pound-for-pound with an impressive 22 TFL the last three seasons. That role hasn’t changed in Pittsburgh but I’m not sure I remember seeing a DB get work in backs on ‘backers before. So the team may be taking a slightly different approach to camp this year.
And with the evolution of dime defenses, many safeties have taken on a hybrid linebacker role. Pittsburgh may wind up playing more dime defense than the 16% usage they showed a year ago now that Mark Barron is gone. It’s the most logical workaround to not playing Vince Williams 700+ snaps this season.
Terrell Edmunds could be someone who slides down or with positive play and/or injuries, something Allen or Brooks could attempt. Some believe long-term Brooks best home is at linebacker while Allen had the same conversation when the team drafted him in 2018. Any safety who plays in a dime role, or even traditionally rotates as the strong safety, has to be physical and fill the alley against the run. Pittsburgh isn’t afraid to blitz those guys up the B gap either.
Check out Tomlin’s full post-practice interview below.