If there was any doubt as to what the Pittsburgh Steelers would expect out of rookie defensive back Tre Norwood, selected in the seventh round of the 2021 NFL Draft, head coach Mike Tomlin left no ambiguity as he announced the pick, using the term Swiss army knife to define his position.
Though listed as a safety on the team’s roster on their website, it’s clear that they envision him as a versatile piece in the secondary who can also play outside at cornerback, as well as in the slot in nickel and dime packages. If he were to see the field as a rookie, it would undoubtedly be as a roving dime defender.
According to reports from OTAs and minicamp, the Steelers haven’t worked him with training wheels on by any means. He has played at various positions throughout the secondary already, and there have been some positive reports about how he has looked.
“I don’t look at it as challenging”, he said of the task of training at multiple positions at once as a rookie, something with which many players struggle. “It’s something I intentionally wanted to do when I got to college. Once I had the opportunity to do it, I took pride in it. I look at it as more opportunity. I am blessed to be able to do that, to be able to move around on the back end and play all of the positions”.
During his college career, he played quite a bit at both cornerback and safety, lining up in the latter position during his senior season in 2020, during which he registered a career-high five interceptions. It was a role in which he appeared most comfortable.
Given that there are no starting safety jobs open, however, he must be open to lining up all over the place, and it very clearly seems as though he is. He would be wise to follow a course similar to Cameron Sutton, a 2017 third-round pick, who embraced versatility to get on the field when he could, and is now starting.
“I feel like it helps me a lot that I am not a one-dimensional guy”, he said of being able to move around. “Any position on the back end I can play and do it at a high level. Any position I need to play on the back end to help the team get to the ultimate goal of winning the Super Bowl, that is what I am there for”.
A mobile piece is something the Steelers would lack with Sutton if they leave him outside, which will really depend upon how the battle for the fifth defensive back shakes out. Right now, the two leading candidates appear to be Antoine BrooksJr., a box safety, and James Pierre, a pure outside corner.
If Norwood wants to contribute, then he has to prioritize making the team, first and foremost. That starts with making himself useful to Danny Smith, the Steelers’ special teams coordinator. The team’s lack of depth in the secondary does, admittedly, play in his favor, however.