The Pittsburgh Steelers deployed seven different defensive backs in their secondary on Sunday in their regular-season opener against the Buffalo Bills. Two of the seven were not on the roster last year. Another two were not full-time starters at that time, with one of them only seeing a few dozen snaps on defense.
That left it up to returning veterans like Minkah Fitzpatrick and Joe Haden—along with Terrell Edmunds and Cameron Sutton—to lead those new and young faces into the Steelers way. That was particularly pertinent for rookie seventh-round pick Tre Norwood, but also for James Pierre, a college free agent last year.
“We have a couple new guys, Tre Norwood, James Pierre—he’s a year-two guy, played for us a little bit last year, that’s playing for us”, Fitzpatrick said on Pat McAfee’s show on Wednesday. “Couple of new guys we got in camp. I think I’m definitely at the point where I’m taking them under my wing”.
“All the DBs, me, Terrell [Edmunds], Cam [Sutton], are just taking them and telling them, ‘look, this is how it moves, this is how we do things around here’”, he added. “Teaching them the scheme and just coaching them up. Most of the time we just say, ‘just watch and learn’. That’s how we teach around here”.
With Steven Nelson a salary cap casualty and Mike Hilton a free agency departure, the Steelers had a lot more moving parts in the secondary than they normally would. Sutton moved into the starting lineup after being the dime back a year ago. Norwood was the primary slot defender, logging a few dozen snaps there. Pierre also came into the game for 31 snaps.
That is about the number of defensive snaps that he saw all of last season. He is on pace to play over 500 snaps this year if the season opener is indicative of the sort of playing time he should expect to see, while Norwood will see even more than that if he continues to earn those snaps.
That is a big question mark, given that they are untested, but there is only one way to prove yourself, and that is to play. And sometimes that means taking some lumps and playing through them, as long as the coaching staff allows you to do so.
Norwood in particular had his early hiccups, but he was fortunate enough to get away with a couple of the worse one, including getting beat up the seam for what should have been a touchdown to Emmanuel Sanders if Josh Allen could have found him.
But he’ll learn from that, as will the defense. Prior to the start of the regular season, Fitzpatrick said of Norwood that he’s a guy who doesn’t miss assignments. Now that he has a game under his belt, he’ll be able to adapt to what he’s experienced.