When the Pittsburgh Steelers defense first takes the field during the regular season, who is going to be out there if they’re in a nickel front? The way training camp has evolved, it certainly seems as though it could be any number of defensive backs—and that’s in fact how they see it, and like it, in the room.
The defender who is likely to see the most time on the field in nickel packages is Levi Wallace, signed as a free agent coming over from the Buffalo Bills. He talked to reporters on Thursday about the multitude of different personnel groupings the Steelers have shown in the secondary, and he’s supportive of it, even if it’s a bit new to him.
“We have a bunch of personnel [packages but] it’s honestly been fun though. In Buffalo we can just basic nickel most of the time”, he said, via the team’s website, “so to have those different personnel [packages] where you can switch up and match your positions, it excites me, honestly, and it’s something I’m glad that they do here”.
Wallace and Ahkello Witherspoon are still technically listed as co-starters at one outside cornerback position (and both are outside-only cornerbacks, with Cameron Sutton the slot-capable starter). In addition to these three, there is also slot cornerback Arthur Maulet, as well as outside cornerback James Pierre, and a pair of versatile safeties in Damontae Kazee, a very experienced veteran, and Tre Norwood, a second-year guy they have been high on for some time, and who played over 400 snaps last season.
“It kind of keeps things interesting, honestly”, Wallace said about having the numerous different looks that they can present to match up with what offenses are showing, acknowledging that they also have linebackers who can cover. “We have a lot of guys who can cover, and we have a lot of guys who can tackle, too, so it’s honestly been fun”.
The secondary does have a bit of a new look this offseason without Joe Haden, who was a leader in the room for the past five seasons. Haden remains unsigned, and one would imagine if the Steelers were going to call him up, they would have done so by now.
Sutton is entering his second season as a full-time starter, but may spend more time moving inside this year than he did in 2021—depending on how much both Wallace and Witherspoon are also on the field. If they play Maulet, Kazee, and/or Norwood more, that would give Sutton the opportunity to stay outside.
The beauty of us not knowing what to expect with these personnel groupings is, of course, the fact that the Steelers’ opponents don’t know, either. If they’re paying attention, they can by now reasonably anticipate that they are capable of fielding a variety of looks, and they’ll know what the options are. But they don’t know in what contexts, and who specifically to prepare for.