Perhaps the least quantifiable measure of a great team is the locker room’s ability to develop itself. That takes shape in many ways, but particularly with respect to veteran players introducing younger players to the league, to the team, to the system, to the position, or whatever the case may be.
The Pittsburgh Steelers relied on this system for many years, and those younger players would often take the place of the older veterans when free agency hit. These days they’re more likely to retain the older veteran—they’ve become harder to replace in many respects, particularly at some positions—but the culture of development remains.
It’s something two-year veteran defensive back Tre Norwood has experienced firsthand from the older veterans in the secondary, perhaps particularly Minkah Fitzpatrick, which he pointed out yesterday on 93.7 The Fan.
“He’s five years into what I think will be a Hall of Fame career”, he said on the air, referring to the All-Pro safety. “You talk about a guy that’s first in the building, last out. A guy that took me under his wing when I got here”.
Where have we heard that before? Well, Fitzpatrick talked about taking Norwood under his wing nearly a year and a half ago when the latter was a rookie. And Norwood said at the end of his rookie season that to say Fitzpatrick had a huge impact on him would be an understatement.
He didn’t go into great detail about what that means, but he did say that Fitzpatrick “showed me the ropes”, and he believes he didn’t have to play that role—he wanted to. “He’s not obligated to do that. But he took the time out to help me learn the defense. Shoutout to all those guys. I have a room full of great vets, man”.
That includes Cameron Sutton at cornerback and Terrell Edmunds at safety, both of whom are pending unrestricted free agents. Edmunds is five years into the league, Sutton six, so losing them would send a lot of experience, both as veterans and as Steelers, straight out the door.
I’m sure Pittsburgh would like to keep both, if possible, particularly Sutton. But the departure of either would also potentially open the door for Norwood to see a bigger role, as he can play either at safety or in the slot.
He actually started the first game of his career as the Steelers’ nickel defender in the slot, although that changed rather quickly and his role was adjusted. He played less in 2022 than he did as a rookie because they were deeper in the secondary.
Time will tell what the future holds for him in Pittsburgh. He’s still got two years on his rookie contract and he’s surely not going anywhere before then. What will his role be in 2023? Whatever it is, Fitzpatrick will be there to help. That’s what free safeties do, after all.