James Pierre didn’t play a lot of snaps in 2020. He was just under 300 total for the season, and of his 271 snaps, over 220 of them came on special teams. But in the time he had on the field, the undrafted player continued to impress after fighting his way onto the roster as a rookie.
When Joe Haden couldn’t play in the team’s Wild Card game against Cleveland, it was Pierre who earned a handful of the newly-available snaps. And this offseason, it is Pierre whose name is the one tossed around in discussions for the player getting a much bigger role as the team’s third corner, replacing Mike Hilton and Cameron Sutton in that spot. The second-year player is making the most of his chances, selected as a standout player for the second day of minicamp and getting the chance to speak with the media as a result. Before Pierre stepped up to answer questions, his head coach took a turn, and had some thoughts to share about his cornerback.
“He’s one of those second-year guys that we all have high expectations for. I think it’s reasonable when you’ve been around a guy that’s been in the program and kind of understands what to expect, what’s needed of him physically, what’s needed of him mentally, and so forth,” Mike Tomlin said following Wednesday’s on-field work.
Going from 35 defensive snaps (18 in a Week 17 game where many starters rested) in one season to assuming the team’s No. 3 cornerback role is a big jump, and matches the high expectations Tomlin mentioned. Pierre is limited in his actual on-field experience, but got to learn under the tandem of Joe Haden and Steven Nelson last year, as well as then-No. 3 corner and now a new starter in Cameron Sutton.
Impressing thus far in minicamp is another strong step forward for the corner, who is competing against former third-rounder Justin Layne, seventh-rounder Tre Norwood, and undrafted players like Shakur Brown and Lamont Wade for the job behind Haden and Sutton.
“I think we’re looking for all of those second-year players who gained experience, and that guy gained a lot of experience last year,” Tomlin said. “He didn’t play a lot of defense, but he had a helmet on every week, he was preparing every week, he was a critical component of our special teams unit. And that usually is an indication that the guy’s ready to proceed and advance. And I think it’s reasonable to expect him to do stuff.”