Every player develops and learns at different speeds. We hear this a lot, and we should know it. But likewise, some positions have steeper learning curves than others—something we also tend to intuitively understand. It’s a lot easier to play right away at running back than it is to play the quarterback position at a high level.
The cornerback position is one of the more complex spots on the field, so bringing in a member of the secondary at the last moment is tricky. You can find success, like the Pittsburgh Steelers did with Minkah Fitzpatrick in 2019, but not everybody is Minkah Fitzpatrick. Some of them are Ahkello Witherspoon, who told reporters after Monday’s game that sitting on the bench and learning was part of the process of him doing what he’s doing now.
Yet when they claimed defensive tackle Montravius Adams from the New Orleans Saints’ practice squad, he didn’t just play right away, he played 34 snaps. In fact, he has already played 136 snaps in the four games in which he has been on the field for Pittsburgh already. Yesterday, head coach Mike Tomlin explained why it was reasonable to expect him to be ready for that workload.
“Because there’s not a lot of variations when you’re playing the A-gap. Everybody knows where the A-gap is”, he said with a laugh. “The process for him to get up to speed is a much easier process than, say, Witherspoon, who plays in space and in a myriad of coverages and things of that nature. It’s just the nature of the position”.
Witherspoon is a fifth-year veteran with prior starting experience, but he spent most of the first half of the season as a healthy scratch, playing behind James Pierre as the top backup. It wasn’t until Pierre was benched after struggling to fill in for Joe Haden that he earned a regular role.
Injuries also provided the pathway not just for playing time but for a roster spot for Adams, who likewise is a fifth-year veteran, who did dress for five games with the Saints earlier in the year. The Steelers have been without Stephon Tuitt, Tyson Alualu, and Carlos Davis all or most of the year. Isaiah Buggs then went down, as well.
They desperately needed a body, but they’re starting to see that they may have gotten a bit more than that. “He being an interior, A-gap-like player, you can generally find the A-gap. We’re appreciative of the energy that he has brought and the playmaking that he’s brought”, Tomlin said. “It’s been much needed”.
Adams’ numbers won’t jump out at you. He has six tackles for the Steelers, with one tackle for loss and a batted pass. He does have three quarterback hits as well, though he hasn’t had a sack since 2018. But the tape is what tells his story. You see the quickness and the motor, and how fast he gets off the line. You see the handwork. His teammates and coaches see it as well. He’s been an encouraging mid-season find that they’ll no doubt want to bring back in 2022.