With the 2022 new league year, the questions will be plenty for quite a while, even as the Pittsburgh Steelers spend cash and cap space and use draft picks in an effort to find answers. We don’t know who the quarterback is going to be yet—even if we have a good idea. How will the offensive line be formulated? How will the secondary develop amid changes, including to the coaching staff? What does Teryl Austin bring to the table—and Brian Flores? What will Matt Canada’s offense look like absent Ben Roethlisberger?
These sorts of uncertainties are what I will look to address in our Buy or Sell series. In each installment, I will introduce a topic statement and weigh some of the arguments for either buying it (meaning that you agree with it or expect it to be true) or selling it (meaning you disagree with it or expect it to be false).
Topic Statement: Damontae Kazee will be the Steelers’ dime defender in 2022.
Explanation: The experienced former starting safety is also a capable slot defender, where Cameron Sutton figures to be the primary starter this season in between outside cornerbacks Ahkello Witherspoon and Levi Wallace.
Damontae Kazee is too experienced a player, too good of a resource, not to get on the field. He is a four-year starter at safety with 49 starts to his name. The most likely alternative dime options are Arthur Maulet, whose strength is not in coverage and is undersized, and Tre Norwood, whose long-term potential is basically what Kazee is—and they already have Kazee.
Although naturally a free safety, Kazee has both the skill set and the tape that shows he is capable of playing in the slot as a coverage defender. And when the Steelers are playing in a dime defense, they are obviously facing pass situations with a high degree of certainty.
Although Kazee has some experience working in the slot, it’s not as much as you might think. The only season in which he played more than a relative handful of snaps there was in 2019, and that was only a couple hundred snaps.
Depending upon the situation, Maulet or Norwood should be just as strong of candidates to log time there. Norwood in particular is a young defender that the Steelers are high on. He showed glimpses of a well-rounded skill set, not just in pass coverage, which he is capable of doing.
Norwood, after all, was allowed to start the 2021 season opener, in his first game action, as the primary nickel defender. If they can’t even ask him to be the primary dime defender, that would certainly be an indictment of what they think of him, even considering the presence of a veteran safety, who was signed to provide quality depth. But at least the Steelers have options, even if they only have one blue-chip player in the entire secondary.