The Pittsburgh Steelers have added two major pieces to their defense in recent weeks, first signing free agent pass rusher Melvin Ingram, and now acquiring inside linebacker Joe Schobert via trade. Their skills are clear. Their roles can use a little refinement, but they will be obvious contributors, with Schobert a full-time starter.
There remains much less clarity within the Steelers’ cornerback groupings, and it’s still not clear who the third cornerback will be—and whether he will play in the slot or on the outside. This is as opaque to the players out there on the field as it is to us.
“Man, that’s the question that we’re gonna see”, starting strong safety Terrell Edmunds told reporters earlier today after practice when asked about the plan for the defense in sub-packages. “Coach Tomlin probably can answer that one better than me, but hopefully he’s gonna put us in the right positions to be great”.
The coaches have been planning for most of the offseason to test out candidates to step into the slot, specifically, in place of Mike Hilton, who signed with the Cincinnati Bengals this offseason as a free agent. But they are also prepared to slide Cameron Sutton into the slot from the outside if necessary.
The lead candidate to take over the slot role has been Antoine Brooks Jr., originally drafted as a safety out of Maryland in the sixth round a year ago. He debuted well in the Hall of Fame game but has since been sidelined. Veteran Arthur Maulet is the other primary slot candidate.
“It’s like a Coach T saying, two dogs, one bone. They’re both out there making plays, they both have certain skillsets with their abilities, and they’re both out there just going at it”, Edmunds said of the competition between the two. “‘Toine, he’s been down for a few days, but he’s going to come back with a full head of steam, ready to compete. It’s all about competition out there. Everybody’s out here competing. That’s what we do every day”.
If the coaches find themselves unsatisfied with either candidate, it remains a possibility that the Steelers could use James Pierre as the nickel defender instead. But rather than play in the slot, Pierre would step in at right outside cornerback, where Sutton is playing this year, moving the latter into that inside slot role, where he started four games last season.
The good news is that there are still four more weeks for the Steelers to figures this all out, including two more preseason games. But Brooks had better hurry up in getting back on the field. Especially for a young player, you can’t afford to spend too much time watching practice with an ice wrap on when you’re competing for a role.