Now that the 2021 offseason has begun, following yet another year of disappointment, a fourth consecutive season with no postseason victories, it’s time to take stock of where the Pittsburgh Steelers stand. Specifically where Steelers players stand individually based on what we are seeing over the course of the offseason as it plays out. We will also be reviewing players based on their previous season and their prospects for the future.
A stock evaluation can take a couple of different approaches and I’ll try to make clear my reasonings. In some cases it will be based on more long-term trends. In other instances it will be a direct response to something that just happened. So we can see a player more than once over the course of the season as we move forward.
Player: S Antoine Brooks Jr.
Stock Value: Up
Reasoning: Antoine Brooks had gotten his name tossed around a bit lately by members of the coaching staff as a possible option for the Steelers’ slot defender this year.
A sixth-round pick in 2020, Antoine Brooks was actually the only draft pick who failed to make the initial 53-man roster a year ago for the Steelers. He did stay on the practice squad, however, and was eventually called up. He played a couple dozen snaps on defense for one game in which the Steelers had multiple absence in the secondary, including slot cornerback Mike Hilton.
When the Steelers drafted Brooks, they called him a safety/linebacker hybrid. In their defense, the slot defender is basically a box player, so it’s just as important for him to demonstrate the ability to play the run and rush the passer as it is to excel in coverage.
Senior defensive assistant Teryl Austin confirmed on Wednesday that Brooks is indeed practicing as a slot defender in the spring this year, and that he is an option for that nickel role, a job for which others such as James Pierre, Justin Layne, and Arthur Maulet are in contention.
“That’s where he’s been working and what he’s doing and he’s still got a ways to gov”, he added. “But I think the progress is coming. I think it’s really important that we did have an off season this year and that’ll allow him to have an opportunity to win a job in there”.
Head coach Mike Tomlin also said that his college tape indicated an aptitude to play in the slot role, as did his brief cameo doing exactly that last season, and that he’ll be “given the opportunity” to continue to grow as this group of mostly young defensive backs looks to sort itself out and churn out a number five defender.
Of course, if he fails to win the nickel role, he could also be the dime defender, which would be made easier by Cameron Sutton’s inside-outside flexibility. In fact, I might go so far as to predict that he will be the dime defender this year.