The Pittsburgh Steelers secondary has called upon a variety of contributors over the course of this season already, in part through necessity, but also in part due to depth. Technically speaking, every defensive back on the 53-man roster has now logged defensive snaps, though really, it’s a core group of seven who have been contributing regularly.
The most inconsistent of those roles belongs to James Pierre, the Steelers’ primary backup outside cornerback, who has started a couple of games due to injuries, but otherwise, does not play a great deal, behind Joe Haden and Cameron Sutton. With Haden injured, however, it may be Pierre’s time for a full game yet again.
“You see him showing up each and every week, in the special teams game and obviously in defense as well”, Sutton said of Pierre earlier today. “A guy that just has a knack for the ball and just flying around and getting to the ball. Every time you step out onto the field, you have to have 11 guys flying around getting hats to the ball. He’s putting that on display, and we want and hope to see that continue for him”.
A second-year former college free agent out of a small school, Pierre was a surprise to even make the team last year, during an offseason shrouded in the height of the pandemic, with no preseason, and no spring practices.
He’s had greater opportunities to grow in year two, and has logged nearly 300 defensive snaps already this season, despite having only made two starts. But he has made 35 tackles, has forced two fumbles, and has an interception and four passes defensed.
“You have to be a starter in your role. I feel like you have to maximize the opportunities that you do have even if you’re not in a starting role”, Sutton said, who knows a little something about biding your time. “So whether it’s five plays, whether it’s 10 plays, whether it’s just special teams, third downs, or possessions, whatever it is, coming into that role, it’s just the same approach”.
“For a guy like Pierre, he’s continuing to get that game experience”, he added. “He’s obviously another young guy, like [Tre] Norwood, who’s around football and just loves the game. That brings us closer when you have that competitive nature and competitive guys around you and are just hungry to play for each other”.
With free safety Minkah Fitzpatrick on the Reserve/COVID-19 List, it’s quite possible that both Pierre and Norwood are in the starting lineup this Sunday night, alongside Sutton at cornerback, Terrell Edmunds at safety, and Arthur Maulet in the slot. Justin Layne actually logged a dime snap this past week.
We could also possibly see Ahkello Witherspoon dressing for this game, and having safety Karl Joseph called up from the practice squad. He had dressed for one game earlier this season. If he dressed for Fitzpatrick, however, it would be as a COVID-19 replacement, which would not count against his two allotted elevations.