We were perhaps all a bit premature in trying to crown James Pierre a starter this season, admittedly. A second-year former college free agent out of Florida Atlantic, the cornerback benefited from the departures of Mike Hilton and Steven Nelson, but that doesn’t automatically result in a promotion.
The Pittsburgh Steelers retained Cameron Sutton to play on the outside, or at least that is their plan. They are scouring the roster searching high and low for their next slot defender, and seem to be finding some viable candidates in Antoine Brooks Jr. and Arthur Maulet.
Should that prove to be the case, that means Pierre, who is an outside corner, is going to be on the sidelines to start the season, as a backup. But he can help his cause by showing up at this time of year, something he obviously did last year, since he made the team without the benefit of a preseason, in a year with a deeper wide receiver group.
Reports have generally been positive for him throughout. He had a two-pick practice back during OTAs. Yesterday, he returned an interception 107 yards for a touchdown during a Seven Shots drill, and he’s got the attention back on him, which prompted questions posed to head coach Mike Tomlin about him.
“Specifically, in terms of this setting, he has shown the characteristics that we expect of a second-year guy to come in and display the understanding of the process by being in better condition than he was a year ago”, he told reporters, afterward citing other second-year guys like Brooks and Alex Highsmith who are also stepping up.
“Second-year players, second lap around the track, they’re supposed to display that awareness, and he’s one of the guys that’s doing it”, he added. “First, by showing up ready to go. Secondly, by showing maturity and growth and development in his game that should be associated with a guy that has some experience”.
One thing I noted from Pierre when he spoke to reporters after practice is that he is learning to put the film room, and the practice room, together. He talked about “doing drills in practice two days ago” that he called upon in that situation to make the play. “I just took the drill to the practice”.
There’s still more than a month to go before anything needs to be known, but we could still see Pierre on the field this year without injuries, if he is the dime back. Generally, the dime is only played in obvious passing situations, making the versatility of the nickel role the Steelers are looking for less important, so they could slide Sutton inside then and let Pierre play outside.