With the losses of Mike Hilton and Steven Nelson and only a seventh round draft pick added to the mix, even Kevin Colbert isn’t sure what the slot corner spot will look like for Pittsburgh in 2021. He joined Joe Starkey and Ron Cook of 93.7 The Fan to outline options for the position.
“That remains to be seen,” Colbert said when asked who would be the frontrunner there. “Antoine Brooks has played some of that in some of our different package looks when it was more run situation type stuff. He could be inserted in there. We’re going to have different dime packages where you may have six defensive backs on the field. You will maybe incorporate those linebackers back in. Marcus Allen filled in at that inside backer position last year.”
The Steelers re-signed Cam Sutton to a two-year deal. At the time, it seemed obvious he was going to be the team’s slot corner to replace Hilton. Sutton had played that role extensively the past two seasons, and his game had steadily improved. But after the team dumped Nelson, Sutton’s odds of playing RCB — Nelson’s old spot — shot way up. It’s a guarantee Sutton will be the right corner in the team’s base, 3-4 defense. The question is if Sutton will slide to the nickel in sub-packages. If he does, then James Pierre and Justin Layne will have to take hold of the outside spot. If Sutton stays outside, then it’s anyone’s guess as to who works in the nickel.
As Colbert mentioned, 2020 sixth-round pick Antoine Brooks is an option as that “big nickel.” But he doesn’t have the quickness like a cover-corner, and would out of position handling that role full-time. He’s ideally a fit as a dime and rover defender, matching up on a tight end or running back or occasionally blitzing rather than manning up on a slot receiver. Similar could be said for Marcus Allen, who moved from strong safety to inside linebacker last season.
Beyond that, options are pretty thin. The team did take corner/safety Tre Norwood in the seventh round. His focus may be more on safety, but it’s possible he could come down and play the slot. There’s also veteran corner Trevor Williams, whose NFL career has been derailed by injuries, and the chance a UDFA like Shakur Brown could carve a path through the slot position. Brown was arguably the top-rated undrafted player the Steelers’ signed, and played true nickel at Michigan State. Check out our player profile on him here.
Colbert noted defensive flexibility will give the team options.
“There’s so many mixes and matches that I think current NFL football is forcing a lot of guys to have that position flexibility that coach likes to talk about is important. I think a lot of them have it. So maybe we can continue to see who can grow and expand in that area. You could have safeties moving down and that you could have some of the other outside corners that maybe have to go in and backup. I think that’s an open book as we sit here today.”
Like so many other aspects of the team, there are more questions than answers this year than there was a year ago. For the past two seasons, the Steelers’ secondary has been rock solid without many holes. Now, they’ll count on young guys to step up and take hold of some new roles.