The Pittsburgh Steelers have been counting on significant contributions from their rookie draft class this year; while things could be better, by and large, they are getting them. That includes even the defensive side of the ball, with seventh-round defensive back Tre Norwood playing a role of varying size in sub-packages.
Though he only played 15 snaps during Sunday’s game against the Seattle Seahawks, he made a big impact in that limited space, recording three defensive stops on third down, including two in the first quarter alone. One might think that would lead to a bigger role in the second half of the year.
“I think he’s become a good player, and a good fit for us, because of how smart he is, what he does”, said senior defensive assistant Teryl Austin, speaking to reporters earlier today. “He’s got good underneath coverage skills, he’s got good route-recognition awareness, and he’s a tough kid. So that’s why he’s able to carve out that niche early with us, and it’ll keep growing”.
A versatile defensive back out of Oklahoma, the Steelers drafted him in large part because of his intelligence and his ability to play all over the field. It is those qualities that have allowed him to get involved early on, even beginning the season as their primary nickel defender, though that role has increasingly expanded to other players in the ensuing weeks.
While he has played primarily in the slot so far, Norwood has also been asked to roll back to the safety position, with scattered snaps in the box, and even on the outside. Clarifying what his role is, Austin said of the rookie, “he’s just a DB”.
The opening in the lineup, of course, was created by the offseason losses of Mike Hilton and Steven Nelson, two of the Steelers’ starting cornerbacks. Hilton had been the team’s slot defender for the past four years, and they have not had a one-for-one replacement to replicate his talents.
But veteran Arthur Maulet has been able to do some of that, and in turn, he has been seeing an increased amount of playing time. Notably, he has four tackles for loss already across 127 snaps played. Outside cornerback James Pierre has been the other contributor.
It remains to be seen how the nickel defender evolves over the course of the second half of the season. Pierre has logged a lot of playing time, but that has partially been because there have been a couple of games missed by the outside starters. They now have the bye week to figure out what their plan is, though it will likely be a week-to-week, schematic decision.