The regular season marks the culmination of an extensive investigation into who your team will be that year. By this point, you’ve gone through free agency, the draft, training camp, and the preseason. You feel good in your decisions insofar as you can create clarity without having played meaningful games. But there are still plenty of uncertainties that remain, whether at the start of the regular season or the end, and new ones continually develop over time.
That is what I will look to address in our Buy or Sell series. In each installment, I will introduce a topic statement and weigh some of the arguments for either buying it (meaning that you agree with it or expect it to be true) or selling it (meaning you disagree with it or expect it to be false).
The range of topics will be intentionally wide, from the general to the specific, from the immediate to that in the far future. And as we all tend to have an opinion on just about everything, I invite you to share your own each morning on the topic statement of the day.
Topic Statement: Tre Norwood will be the Steelers’ primary nickel defender throughout the entire season.
Explanation: Rookie seventh-round defensive back Tre Norwood logged 68 out of 85 defensive snaps played for the Steelers on Sunday, or one fewer than T.J. Watt, and two more than Joe Schobert. Outside of the top four defensive backs, the only defenders to play every snap, he logged more time than any other member of the secondary.
Unless there are some mitigating circumstances like injuries, a rookie late-round pick isn’t generally going to have his playing time scaled backward. If he is on the field in the season opener, let alone for 80 percent of the snaps, it’s because he earned it, not because they just wanted to see what he could do, like they might be more inclined to do for a high draft pick.
Norwood is a capable player in coverage who is getting better with the physicality of the position at this level. The coaches really like his football intelligence and his ability to be trusted to move around the field. Importantly, he offers them a lot of flexibility that they wouldn’t have without him on the field, and that’s why he stays.
While it is possible that Norwood might keep the job throughout there year, there are many ways in which things can go wrong. First and foremost, he could struggle. He did have his rookie moments on Sunday, but he got away with some of the worse ones. If he gets burnt on a few of those over the next month, they might have to make a change.
Then there’s the specter of the two veteran defensive backs. They gave up a fifth-round pick to bring in Ahkello Witherspoon, who has been a full-time starter on the outside. Once he’s up to speed on the defense, it’s easy to see how he might become the fifth defensive back, with Cameron Sutton moving into the slot in the nickel. Karl Joseph could also factor as a sub-package defender if he ever gets called up to the 53-man roster.
Or, James Pierre could simply play too well to keep off the field. I think most would argue that he is their best fifth defensive back right now, but his outside-only limitations hinder his ability to get on the field.