On Wednesday, Pittsburgh Steelers second year cornerback James Pierre was the subject of my Terrible Take on the heels of the good things that head coach Mike Tomlin had to say about the former undrafted product out of Florida Atlantic earlier in the day. In short, I said that I believe Pierre has a good chance of playing a much bigger role on defense for the Steelers in 2021 and possibly even on the outside in some sub packages so that fellow cornerback Cameron Sutton can shift inside to a nickel role. That take of mine wound up being timed perfectly as Steelers secondary coach Teryl Austin had even more great things to say about Pierre on Thursday during his media session.
Austin was first asked if he knows how Pierre managed to slip through the proverbial draft cracks last year and right into the hands of the Steelers.
“Well, that happens all the time,” Austin said. “I think when you look at the drafts, I believe if you probably did a study, there’s probably more free agents on rosters than there are fifth, sixth and seventh round picks. And I don’t what everybody missed, and I don’t know what we missed because we’re part of that group. We just happened to get him as a free agent. We got lucky that way.”
Austin then continued to heap praise on Pierre and specifically how he went about making the Steelers 53-man roster in 2020 as a rookie undrafted free agent.
“But I just think when you have a guy, he’s big, he’s long, he runs, I think the biggest thing that really stood out with James from last year was how hard he competed, his interest in, ‘What can I do to get better?’ And taking what he was told and applying it. And that was really unique for a young guy, especially with no offseason,” Austin said.
“And so I know he sat down with me a couple of times and I said, ‘Listen, James, you’re not going to make this team as a corner right off the bat, you’re going to make this team because you do great on special teams, so you better be Danny’s [Danny Smith] best friend and then work on your craft as a DB, because then you’ll have an opportunity to work on it while you’re being a good special teams player. And he did that. And all that stuff is coming to fruition for him.”
Pierre’s special teams play in 2020 as a rookie was great and he ended the season with nine total tackles. Tomlin made sure to comment on Pierre’s special teams play on Wednesday and why he thinks that’s evidence to think that he might just turn into a good defensive cornerback moving forward.
“I saw consistent varsity gunner play,” Tomlin said Pierre. “Often times, when you have that level of consistency and performance in a special teams area, it’s often an indication of advancement or maturity and growth opportunity in the other phases as well. I think over the course of my time here, the young guys that are consistent and perform in that area usually ascend within the offensive or defensive unit and so it’s reasonable to expect him to do that. He got a lot of in-game experience last year, although it was in a special teams area. I think that field time and that game speed exposure will help in the growth and development. I think it is reasonable to expect him to utilize that experience as a catalyst for his growth on defense.”
So, what does the future hold for Pierre beginning in 2021? Well, it certainly does sound like the Steelers think that they just might have found themselves an undrafted prize.
“And like I said, he’s still developing,” Austin said of Pierre on Thursday. “This is his first offseason and I think there’ll be a big jump with him and I’m hoping that we have all of a sudden found ourselves a nice big corner for the future.”
With the Steelers not having a great track record when it comes to drafting cornerbacks over the course of the last two decades, it certainly would be nice to see them hit on an undrafted one like Pierre. Personally, I like his chances of playing on the outside in sub packages throughout the 2021 season in addition to maybe even being the team’s primary backup cornerback to Sutton and veteran Joe Haden right out of the chute while continuing to log time on special teams. This same time next year, Pierre might just be in line to be a starter if he lives up to his expectations during the 2021 season.
“He ended up being a pretty good contributor for us on special teams and he actually played some defense and did a really pretty good, solid job on defense towards the end of the year,” Austin said of Pierre.