Rosters change at a rapid pace at this time of year. That leaves coaches in vulnerable positions when they are asked questions by the media; either they have to be vague if they know what the pending roster moves are, or they risk giving information that will quickly be outdated.
At the time that Pittsburgh Steelers defensive coordinator Keith Butler addressed the media yesterday, they only had four cornerbacks on their 53-man roster, and just eight defensive backs in total. After practice, following moves to place three players on the Reserve/Injured List, cornerback Arthur Maulet, who had been cut the previous day, was among the players brought back.
“I don’t think anybody’s comfortable with four cornerbacks”, Butler said when he was directly asked whether or not he was comfortable with the number they had at the time, presaging the roster move that would follow later in the day.
“We’ve got guys who can play different positions”, he added. “Cam [Sutton] can play different positions. He can play the nickel. 42 [James Pierre] has shown that he can play in preseason. We think we’re okay right now to play them in different positions. If somebody becomes available out there in Never Never Land, we’ll see what happens”.
As we stand here today, it remains likely that the Steelers’ most common nickel defense will feature Sutton moving into the slot with Pierre replacing him on the outside. Bringing Maulet back gives them another option, as he can play in the slot. Rookie Tre Norwood is also capable of playing in the slot, but he would likely be a last-resort option.
The team also signed veteran safety Karl Joseph to the practice squad, with intentions to sign him to the 53-man roster when he clears the COVID-19 protocols. He will give them yet another option as a fifth defensive back.
Down the road, the Steelers could, and possibly will, also revisit the question of Antoine Brooks Jr., the second-year defensive back who spent most of the offseason running with the first-team defense in the slot before suffering an injury that apparently ended up being more serious than originally believed.
The team ended up putting Brooks on the Reserve/Injured List prior to the final cutdowns, meaning that he was not eligible to be designated to return later in the season. They have since reached an injury settlement with him; after the length of the settlement (perhaps as little as two to three weeks), plus an additional three weeks, comes and goes, they would be eligible to re-sign him, either to the 53-man roster or the practice squad.
They didn’t have to look far to find their Never Never Land…but Butler may have already known that when he said it.