Tre Norwood Was Phased Out of The Steelers’ Defense – Can He Return?

Devin Bush, Diontae Johnson, Ahkello Witherspoon, heck, even Isaiahh Loudermilk might lead a list of the most disappointing players of the Pittsburgh Steelers’ 2022 season.

But no one is talking about second-year safety Tre Norwood. If there was any player who saw his role not just reduced but essentially eliminated, it was him.

A seventh round pick in 2021 and literally billed as a “Swiss Army Knife” by Mike Tomlin, Norwood had a successful rookie season. Better when used in just dime packages instead of seeing work as a nickel package slot corner, Norwood picked up 38 tackles and his first career interception across nearly 400 defensive snaps.

He opened 2022 in a similar versatile role and stayed healthy and available when the Steelers’ secondary was rocked hard by injuries. He played nearly every snap in the team’s Week 6 upset win over Tom Brady, a rag-tag defensive backfield able to hold the Bucs’ offense in check. But that was the highlight of his season. After the bye, Damontae Kazee got healthy and off IR, immediately shuffling Norwood to special teams duty.

From Week Ten and on, Norwood played only 15 defensive snaps across just two games, Week Ten versus the New Orleans Saints (a game Minkah Fitzpatrick missed after an emergency appendectomy) and Week 16 against the Las Vegas Raiders (a game Terrell Edmunds missed with a hamstring injury). In other words, when the Steelers had their starters healthy, Norwood didn’t have a role. To put it in context, Elijah Riley played nearly as many snaps as Norwood (12) over the back half of the year. To be fair, Norwood was dinged with an injury the final two weeks of the season but the Steelers showed they had no plans to get him on the field defensively.

Norwood losing out to Kazee in the defensive rotation as the team’s sixth defensive back in dime packages isn’t a complete shock. Still, Norwood was immediately usurped by a free agent who signed a one-year deal after the draft and missed the first two months of the year with a broken arm. As soon as Kazee was healthy, he was the guy, even starting over Norwood for that Saints game.

Prior to the bye, Norwood struggled. Losing out to Kazee was justified. Even coming out of Oklahoma, Norwood was never a strong tackler but he was worse in 2022 than he was as a rookie. According to our Josh Carney’s tracker, Norwood had a 32.4% missed tackle rate, 11 on 34 total attempts. Of those with at least 25 tackle attempts, the next closest to Norwood’s was Arthur Maulet’s 15.7% and he was mixing it downhill against the run a lot more often. Here’s the five-highest missed tackles rate of those with 25+ attempts.

Highest Missed Tackle Rate, 2022 (Min: 25 Tackle Attempts)

1. Tre Norwood – 32.4%
2. Arthur Maulet – 15.7%
3. Alex Highsmith – 12.5%
4. Cam Sutton – 12.2%
5. Terrell Edmunds – 11.4%

Norwood easily in first place in a category no one wants to lead. Compare him to him and Norwood had just a 13.6% missed tackle rate as a rookie. Defensive backs have to be trusted to make plays in space and Norwood was a space/passing down player. You can’t miss tackles on get-off downs and he did far too often. So it’s no wonder he went straight to the bench once the Steelers had a choice.

Edmunds and Kazee are pending free agents and all eyes will be on if one or both will be signed. Though neither will break the bank, it’s more likely only one will return, potentially putting Norwood back in play as that dime defender. But it’s a role he’ll have to earn coming off an objectively disappointing 2022 year. Pittsburgh will likely be adding more competition to the mix too because every secondary needs to have depth.

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