The Pittsburgh Steelers defense possesses more talent on its side of the ball than any other Steelers defense in the better part of the past decade—pending, of course, potential notable losses like Bud Dupree. The biggest change in recent years has been the additions that have been made to the secondary, changes that have an impact on the entire unit.
Starting with the addition of Joe Haden in 2017 and followed by the signing of Steven Nelson in 2019 and then the acquisition via trade of Minkah Fitzpatrick, Pittsburgh suddenly built one of the better defensive backfields in the league, coupled with nifty slot defenders in Mike Hilton and Cameron Sutton. If Terrell Edmunds is your clear weakest link, there’s a reasonable chance your entire group is pretty strong overall.
So much about being successful in the secondary, however, is about everybody knowing what everybody else is doing, and the best way to achieve this organically is to accumulate time logged together on the field—the practice field, but especially the stadiums on Sundays. And Nelson feels like they’re still growing in this area heading into 2021.
“I saw a big difference in communication”, he told Teresa Varley for the team’s website. “We have been together two years now and I only see it getting better. In 2020, it was a little rough in the very beginning and that had to do with not having OTAs and that period together. But that was just at the start. I think now, having the two years under our belt with the core of the secondary, we will work together even more next year”.
Will there by OTAs this year? I’m not sure that we can even say that with certainty right now. The NFLPA seems to be pushing to eliminate the voluntary workouts altogether, with president J.C. Tretter arguing that the past season demonstrated that they could do without it.
While it will be a disadvantage especially for young players who need all the on-field reps that they can get in order to learn and grow, this may prove to be a necessary adjustment, and at the least, they now have experience going through the offseason process virtually, which could help avoid another slow start.
Nelson stressed that the camaraderie this secondary has extends beyond the field, and that that “plays a major role with having a good group” as well. One could argue that building that sort of camaraderie takes even more time than on the field.