Week 10 will be headlined by T.J. Watt’s return but he might not be the only line of reinforcements for the Pittsburgh Steelers’ defense. Safety Damontae Kazee could be available too after missing the first half of the season with a wrist injury suffered in the team’s preseason finale.
Speaking with reporters Wednesday, defensive coordinator Teryl Austin said the team will find a home for Kazee in this defense.
“We’ll find a role for him,” Austin said via Steelers.com. “He’s a really good football player and I’m glad he’s back.”
Kazee was carving out a niche role prior to his injury. Signed hours after the 2022 draft concluded, he was enjoying a strong summer showcasing his versatility and hit power. A low shooter who did miss a couple of tackles, Kazee still had the ability to bring down big players in space, making repeated stops on tight ends in the preseason while flashing hit power in training camp. Here was our summary on Kazee’s play during the summer.
“I wasn’t sure what to make of Kazee heading into this summer and doubted how well he’d play. But he proved me wrong and was one of the better stories of camp. Undersized but packing a mighty punch, Kazee is the same dude I watched at the Senior Bowl coming out of San Diego State. Absolutely fearless. He played the run hard and had some monster collisions, including welcoming Calvin Austin to the NFL with a blowup hit on a RPO slant. Kazee shoots low as a tackler and he’s prone to missing but when he gets around the waist/knees, he can take down players twice his size. He made a couple of quality sticks on tight ends, including a fourth down stop of Jags’ TE Evan Engram.”
Kazee was used in three-safety sub-packages during camp and the preseason and gained valuable first-team reps early in camp when Minkah Fitzpatrick was sidelined by an injury. But Kazee suffered a severe wrist injury making a sideline tackle in the summer finale against the Detroit Lions. He was placed on IR before Week One with the team opening his practice window on October 20th. They’ll have until November 10th to activate him. If they don’t, he’ll spend the rest of the year on IR. But based on Austin’s words and Kazee’s medical clearance, he should be activated prior to the team’s next game against the Saints.
How the team will use him is unclear. The secondary is getting healthier and just added CB William Jackson III ahead of yesterday’s trade deadline. Pittsburgh may use their three-safety looks against heavier sets, 12 and 13 personnel. In years past, it had normally come against 1 WR sets, removing a CB for a third safety but in the preseason, the Steelers were running three-safety looks out of nickel, pulling a nose tackle off the field against 12/21 groupings. With NTs Tyson Alualu and Montravius Adams not playing well enough, perhaps the team leans on Kazee in that third safety role more often going forward.
With Kazee and certainly with Watt’s return, the Steelers’ defense looks stronger coming out of the bye. They’ll need their defense to play the lead role in the second half of the season to get back in the win column against a schedule that looks a bit more forgiving compared to the last month.