Throughout the summer, I’ve been pretty clear with where rookie FS Tre Norwood is at. He has free safety-type of instincts, a good processor and aggressive with the football in the air. A skillset worth taking a longer look at and hoping it develops.
The downsides of his game are clear and have been since watching his Oklahoma tape: Physicality and tackling. Norwood isn’t a scared tackler who detests doing it. But he didn’t rack up big tackle numbers in college and in the Hall of Fame Game, was a lot more passive than he should’ve been.
That seemed to change in his third NFL game Saturday night against the Detroit Lions. Here’s two examples.
Let’s start with my favorite play of his. Downhill fill in the run game. Lions’ running back carry left side and gets into the second level. Norwood, from his free safety spot, is aggressive to fill and fit the alley, not chopping his feet or slowing down while doing a nice job of attacking this inside/out. He runs through contact and upends the running back to prevent a good run from becoming a great one.
Night and day difference from that clip I linked in the Cowboys’ game. He’s not worried about making a mistake, missing a tackle, letting the back into daylight. He’s going to be the aggressor, he’s going to be confident and make the play. And he did.
Norwood also displayed that ability on special teams, a crucial aspect for him to sew up a roster spot. Second quarter kickoff. Lions’ kick returner probably shouldn’t have taken this out and perhaps his blockers assumed the same because Norwood is all alone and meets the return man at the ten.
One on one, he makes the open field tackle. Good wrap up and finish. It’s a big stop at the 14, setting the Lions up in terrible field position (plus a penalty that marked them back half the distance on top of that).
Plays like this from Norwood is the first line of defense. It’s not when Cam Heyward and T.J. Watt get on the field. It begins with your kick coverage unit. And this gives the conventional Steelers’ defense a big advantage to start this drive. Force offenses to go 85+ yards against a top five defense in the league and Pittsburgh won’t allow a lot of points.
Another special teams plus play. Third quarter, Mathew Sexton’s long punt return. Several good blocks here but Norwood provides a key one with an “airplane block” from the ten to the five to give Sexton the edge and ability to turn the corner. Great job by Norwood to get his body in front of the defender without risking a block in the back penalty.
But that’s not the first example from Norwood. He sprung Sexton on his other big punt return in the Hall of Fame Game against the Cowboys.
Which is to say, Mathew Sexton owes Tre Norwood some money. Or at least a nice watch.
One more example. Something more in Norwood’s known wheelhouse — coverage. “Zombie” concept here from Norwood at FS and LCB Justin Layne. Against this Yankee concept (over/post combination by the WRs), Norwood and Layne trade assignments. Norwood cuts the crosser while Layne replaces as the post safety.
Good communication by both here and a nice drive on the crosser by Norwood to eliminate that option for the QB. Forces the post and Layne high points the ball and knocks it away (just ignore the wide open RB leaking out on the blitz).
Play here from Norwood is conceptual not just instinct but he does a nice job carrying out his assignment.
Overall, a solid game from Norwood. That won’t prevent the team from adding a free safety. There’s a decent chance they will. But it’s nice to see Norwood grow and get better. Like I wrote at the top, with his free safety skillset that’s hard to find, he’s worth keeping around on the roster to hopefully develop into a backup role by next season.