Pittsburgh Steelers rookie seventh-round pick Tre Norwood played 80 percent of the defensive snaps in Week 1. Second-year James Pierre played 36 percent and Arthur Maulet 15 percent in a game in which they heavily used dime defenses to combat the Buffalo Bills’ passing offense.
By Week 6, Maulet is playing the most, logging 43 percent of the snaps against the Seattle Seahawks, with Norwood and Pierre at 23 and 22 percent, respectively. The overall volume is partly a reflection of different offenses requiring different schemes, but the percentages relative to one another reflect a cohesion of understanding of what each player can do, as their roles begin to solidify as three new contributors to a defense that lost two starters in the secondary.
“It was also a function of losing a couple of people last year, so how do we fit these new people in? What exactly do we have with the new people?”, senior defensive assistant Teryl Austin said when he was asked about the mixture of roles from the beginning of the season compared to where they are now.
“As time has gone on, we’ve figured out how these guys are in games. It’s easy to see. You might be able to see some things in practice, but until you put them in a game situation and thing are live, you don’t really know about a person”.
All three players have shown some impressive qualities, but the negative tape has been there as well. Pierre has gotten the most play, having recorded two starts so far on the outside due to injuries, and he has by far the most negative tape as well, but he’s grown from it. They’ve all grown, and in doing so, have informed the coaches, which has led to tweaks in roles.
“I think we’ve found out a little about it, I think we feel a little bit more comfortable with Arthur now”, Austin said, for example. “We kind of know what he does and how he performs and how he functions, and that helps us. We know a little bit more about Tre Norwood, so that allowed us to cut back on all of the rotations and different combinations of guys”.
The Steelers were using several different combinations of defensive backs in the beginning of the season, including four different players logging significant snaps specifically in the slot, among them outside starter Cameron Sutton and safety Minkah Fitzpatrick.
For now, Maulet is the Steelers’ primary slot defender, and Norwood is their primary dime defender. Pierre gets plugged in as needed, or for a different look here and there. But overall, this is a secondary with a much clearer picture of where they’re at as compared to six weeks ago.