Who will be the Pittsburgh Steelers starting slot corner? Could it be Cam Sutton, as Keith Butler hinted at? What about Antoine Brooks Jr or Arthur Maulet? To Mike Tomlin, the answer might be all of the above. Speaking with reporters before Thursday’s final training camp practice, Tomlin was quick to note not all nickel situations are created equal.
“We’ll continue to cast a wide net and look at a variety of candidates regarding that interior nickel or sub-package play,” Tomlin said via Steelers.com. “There’s not just a cookie cutter. There’s not just a nickel. There’s first and second down nickels. There’s third down nickels. There’s two minute nickels.”
What does that mean for Pittsburgh? Potentially on early downs, Antoine Brooks Jr. or Arthur Maulet will play inside with Cam Sutton staying at his right cornerback spot. Brooks and Maulet are more physical corners, and Brooks is definitely bigger, making them the preferred options against the run. In passing situations, the team could move Sutton to the slot with James Pierre playing on the outside. That would give the Steelers their best cover corners.
The Steelers are attempting to have the best of both worlds. Keep the things that made Mike Hilton such a unique threat, his physicality and blitzing, along with the recognition of having your best coverage guys on the field in high-percentage passing moments. It’s a little messier than just replacing Hilton with one guy. But finding someone with his exact skillset is a tall task.
Above all, the Steelers covet having options. This could be another example.
“Versatility are things that we value. And we’re gonna utilize that situation. No doubt.”
Brooks Jr. returned to practice yesterday after missing ten days due to a left leg injury. That will throw his hat back into the ring to log serious playing time this season. Maulet has been available for every practice and the team has blitzed the heck out of him. In the Steelers first two games, he’s blitzed 11 times, 27.5% of his passing snaps. For context, Mike Hilton blitzed 18.7% of the time in 2020. But at best, Maulet is average in coverage and wouldn’t be a reliable option as an every-down, all situations corner.
If all else fails, Sutton can slide into the slot and provide solid play there. He’s not the most effective corner against the run but he’s made improvements the last two seasons and needs only a couple days of practice to get up to speed. He saw his first action in the slot during yesterday’s practice.