Who will be the Pittsburgh Steelers’ starting free safety on Sunday? If Minkah Fitzpatrick doesn’t very quickly make his way through the league’s COVID-19 protocols, then it will not be him, for the very first time in his four-year career. And Pittsburgh doesn’t have any reserves with starting experience in that role.
Arguably the most likely candidate, however, is Tre Norwood, who is a rookie out of Oklahoma drafted in the seventh round. While he has primarily played in the slot since the season started, the Steelers made sure that they grounded him in the free safety position during the summer.
Fitzpatrick has played 100 percent of the Steelers’ defensive snaps this season, so it’s basically uncharted waters if they have to go without him, but the other members of the secondary are comfortable with the rest of the group—partly because they have actually been on the field.
“We have Tre, he played with us last game, even playing with us sometimes in different personnel groups already”, starting strong safety Terrell Edmunds said on Wednesday. “We already know that Tre, he’s a great player. We’ve got all different types of guys that can come in and just go out there and make plays for us, so, definitely gonna see how everything plays out”.
Edmunds also said that they were doing a lot of mixing and matching in the secondary during Wednesday’s practice as they worked to figure out what the best combination would be to fill the void, with Miles Killebrew and Cameron Sutton being other options to play at the free safety spot—as well as Edmunds himself.
In spite of his inexperience, however, Norwood probably best profiles as a free safety in terms of skill set, and, again, that is where the coaching staff had him playing throughout the offseason until the late stages when they started moving him into the slot to give him a better chance of contributing as a rookie.
He has; Norwood has already logged 224 snaps this season. A little more than half of those came back during the first two weeks of the season while he was serving as the starting nickel. He played 118 snaps during the first two games, but just 106 since. That includes 28 snaps on Sunday, the most he’s played since Week 2.
Even though he had only been averaging about 15 snaps or so per game, however, the rookie was still finding ways to make an impact. He does have 19 tackles on the season, including a tackle for loss, and three passes defensed, two of which game this past weekend against the Detroit Lions.