One of the Pittsburgh Steelers’ priorities this offseason is locking in an answer to the question of who will replace slot cornerback Mike Hilton, and whether or not that will be a one-for-one assignment. The man who is first up to bat is 2020 sixth-round pick Antoine Brooks Jr., nominally a safety, but a player the coaches believe can man that inside role in the manner of his predecessor.
Head coach Mike Tomlin didn’t waste any time in naming him the starter in that spot for the Hall of Fame game, but whether and how long he holds on to that distinction will be dependent upon his performance. It didn’t hurt that he was able to make an interception during the first week of training camp off of quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, who couldn’t help but be impressed, even if he felt a bit robbed.
“I thought he made a great play”, Roethlisberger said of Brooks’ interception. “It was one of the sneakiest little slingshots I’ve ever seen. They never would have called that, but my angle was perfect to see it, and I mentioned to him that it was one of the best slingshots I’ve ever seen from a DB”.
It was on a pass intended for JuJu Smith-Schuster, and when asked about it, Aditi Kinkhabwala suggested that Roethlisberger appeared annoyed by the play a few downs later. He talked about the ‘slingshot’, suggesting that it could have been a penalty, but ultimately was resigned to the idea that it was a good play the defense needs to make.
“Not only did he make a great play [to gain position], he then caught it and everything”, Roethlisberger said. “To me, I was more, kind of, I smiled and shook my head, like, ‘what a good play’, because we need those plays. He’s filling Mike Hilton’s shoes, who’s been a rock on that defense for a while”.
“For him to make that play, I was happy for him”, he added. “As mad as I was throwing an interception, it was a great play”.
Brooks did suffer an injury on Sunday, but Tomlin said after practice that it was not serious, so he shouldn’t be expected to miss much time. Still, it could help provide somebody like veteran Arthur Maulet the opportunity to get front and center as the Steelers try to solve the riddle of the slot.
But it’s a long process, including four preseason games to play. Both of them, and perhaps others as time goes on, will get their opportunities. Whoever is making plays will be the one who stands out favorably, particularly if he does so in multiple areas.