The Pittsburgh Steelers’ 2020 season is now in the books. It ended in spectacular fashion — though the wrong kind of spectacular — in a dismal postseason defeat at the hands of the Cleveland Browns, sending them into an early offseason mode after going 12-4 in the regular season and winning the AFC North for the first time in three years.
Since then, they have lost several players in free agency who were key members of the offense and defense. Multiple starters retired, as well. They made few notable additions in free agency, and are banking on contributions on offense from their rookies, as well as perhaps a last ride for Ben Roethlisberger.
The only thing facing them now as they head into 2021 is more questions. Right now, they lack answers. They know that they have Roethlisberger for one more year, but was that even the right decision? How successful can Najee Harris be behind a questionable offensive line? What kind of changes can Matt Canada and Adrian Klemm bring to the offense? And how can the defense retain the status quo with the losses of Bud Dupree, Steven Nelson, and Mike Hilton?
These are the sorts of questions we have been exploring on a daily basis and will continue to do so. Football is a year-round pastime and there are always questions to ask, though there is rarely a concrete answer. This is your venue for exploring the topics we present through all of their uncertainty.
Question: Does Antoine Brooks Jr. still have enough time to win the starting nickel job for the season opener?
Whether they were actively trying to avoid it or simply trying to do their due diligence in exploring the alternatives, the Steelers finally stuck Cameron Sutton in the slot on Saturday during their third preseason game when they used their nickel defense.
Defensive assistant Teryl Austin earlier this offseason talked about how they wanted to work their slot options, of which Antoine Brooks Jr. was the chief candidate. But he has missed the past two preseason games, even though he did return to practice during the last week.
A second-year defensive back, Brooks did play in the Steelers’ first preseason game after spending all of the offseason running with the first-team defense as their top slot defender. He looked the part in that exhibition game, but that’s a limited sample size.
Instead of using Arthur Maulet as their first option in the slot (though they would later do that in the game, and did it the previous week), the Steelers moved Sutton inside from his outside position, and played James Pierre on the outside.
This is a combination that many are excited about, primarily just because they want to get Pierre on the field, and this seems to be perhaps the most likely option as we sit here today, if not simply due to Brooks’ lack of availability. But does he have enough time left to make his case to be the primary nickel defender by the time the team heads up to Buffalo for their regular-season opener?