If there is one Pittsburgh Steeler winning this spring, it might be CB James Pierre. He’s been talked up by virtually every player, every coach. And there’s a prime opportunity for him to see serious playing time on defense following the team’s release of Steven Nelson. Pierre is working to make opportunity a reality and not taking anything for granted. Or taking any days off.
On Wednesday, he outlined how he’s been working this offseason.
“Staying in shape,” Pierre said. “Catching the ball. My coach told me to catch 100 balls a day. So I’ve been catching the ball. That’s it.”
That work is paying off. Pierre reportedly intercepted two passes during today’s practice, including one in the Steelers’ two-minute drill, even leading to a fist-bump from QB Ben Roethlisberger. It’s early but there’s no question Pierre’s play is turning heads.
“I liked the two minute [INT],” Pierre said, recapping his takeaways. “Because it actually got the guys, got the whole team, the energy of the defense just to see the guys turning up with me. Just to start the two-minute and then come in and end it, it’s a good feeling to see the guys pumped. The energy of the defense.”
In 2019 at Florida Atlantic, Pierre recorded three interceptions, the only three of his NFL career. But he’s showing good hands this spring and making a strong case to become the team’s right cornerback in sub-package defenses. That would slide Cam Sutton to the nickel with Joe Haden, of course, still manning his left cornerback spot. The Steelers’ defense has taken the next step each of the last two years because they’ve had an aggressive, ball-hawking secondary. Pierre’s skillset seems to fit what the team is looking for. Long, physical, capable of playing the ball in the air to not only break the pass up but take it away.
That’s the name of the game for NFL defenses. Create turnovers, steal a possession. No longer can teams expect to force a bunch of three-and-outs and play field positions. And when that pick comes off a Hall of Fame QB like Ben Roethlisberger, as one of today’s did, it’s all the sweeter.
“It’s hard to get it from Ben. So when I got those, it kinda like made me smile. But just to see the other guys, it made me happier. And then after practice, Ben come up to me telling ne, ‘good job’, and gave me a fist bump.”
The Steelers are desperate for someone to step up and emerge. Right now, Pierre is showing the work ethic and playmaking to become that guy. He’ll need to carry over this impressive spring into a good summer. Without a preseason last year and limited time on defense, his in-stadium work as a cornerback is small.