One of the most anticipated topics surrounding the Pittsburgh Steelers defense heading into 2022 is how exactly the CB hierarchy will shake out when the regular season comes around in September. When asked about the division of labor between he, Ahkello Witherspoon, and Cam Sutton, and if they have started to define their roles of playing either inside or outside, Wallace acknowledged that it is still an ongoing process at this point in mandatory minicamp.
“No. I think our coaches are rotating us right now,” said Wallace via the Steelers’ YouTube Channel. “My main goal is to learn the playbook. Um, and they’ll figure the rest out in training camp and we’re competing. I think it’s just building camaraderie right now with the teammates that I have out there and kind of going from there, but yeah, they are just have us rotating right now and different personnel for different things. So, it’s been fun. It honestly has been just learning new positions and going out in my comfort zone.”
Wallace played primarily as an outside corner during his time in Buffalo with the Bills as well as in college at Alabama, so any exposure to playing inside at the nickel would be taking him out of his comfort zone, at least to some degree. The long-standing train of thought for many here at Steelers Depot is that Wallace and Witherspoon would be the team’s outside corners, with Sutton kicking inside as the nickel/dime defender, which he did a fair amount prior to last season when Steven Nelson still played on the boundary opposite Joe Haden.
DB Coach Grady Brown reiterated this statement by Wallace when asked about getting all three CBs on the field, saying that his goal is to find a way to get all three of them on the field and create some version of competition. This competition could be what Alex Kozora points to in his recap of Brown’s comments about who primarily lines up as the two outside corners in Pittsburgh’s base defense when the nickel corner comes off the field.
Competition also can be viewed here in mandatory minicamp as seeing who is the most comfortable in the nickel of all three corners, having all of them be tested there so the coaching staff can get the best players in the best spots to be successful in the regular season instead of trying to figure things out on the fly.
When asked if he is comfortable playing both inside and outside, Wallace responded about how you would expect him to.
“Yeah, I mean football’s football, you know?” Wallace responded to the question. “You’re still covering receivers and I played some inside back at Buffalo too, so it’s nothing that is new to me, and I accept the challenge if that’s where they want to put me at.”
“Accepting the challenge”. Wallace is a quick study on the Tomlinisms and should be commended for throwing that into his answer. Obviously, Wallace wasn’t going to respond saying that he feels uncomfortable playing inside after just speaking about how fun it can be rotating inside and outside and learning new positions as he adjusts to a new playbook. Also, stating on camera that he isn’t comfortable playing inside likely isn’t the message Wallace wants to send to Coach Brown, DC Teryl Austin, and the rest of the defensive staff either if he is indeed called to play that spot at some point this season.
While there are key differences playing inside corner versus outside corner, which Steelers Depot’s CB expert Owen Straley could probably entertain you in a conversation on Twitter if you hit him up via DM, at the end of the day, Wallace has a point when he says, “football’s football”. At both positions, you must be able to properly cover the man across from you, be willing to come up in run support, and make sure to not get beaten over the top. Granted, the way you play a receiver may change depending on if you are playing inside or along the boundary, but nonetheless, CBs who are versatile and can wear multiple hats are hot commodities in today’s pass happy league.
It only makes sense for Pittsburgh to move around their top three corners now early in OTAs and mandatory minicamp to see where they are most comfortable and find out who can kick inside and hold his own the best there. That way, when the team kicks off the regular season against the Bengals, Pittsburgh already has gone through these scenarios months in advance, putting their best guys in the best spots possible to effectively cover the opposing passing attack with the personnel they have on the roster.
Wallace’s answers may come off as straightforward, but during a time where teaching and trying new things is important, he’s approaching things with a great mindset which you love to see as a new addition to the team.