Here’s What Mike Tomlin (Probably) Means About Patrick Peterson Playing Safety

Patrick Peterson playing safety. That seemed to be Monday’s headline. And on the surface, it’s easy to interpret Mike Tomlin’s words that way, highlighting Peterson’s untapped versatility while speaking to reporters at this year’s NFL Meetings. Peterson has a high football IQ and when corners begin to lose their speed, they often make the move to safety.

Before we dissect the comments, here’s what Tomlin said regarding Peterson’s role.

“He’s versatile,” Tomlin told reporters via the team’s website. “He is, not only in terms of his talents but his intellect and we’re not gonna be bashful about moving him around. He and I have already had that discussion. I think he’s really excited about the prospects of that.”

It’s a sentiment Peterson expressed during his introductory press conference, matching Tomlin’s comments and the conversation they evidently had.

So is Peterson going to replace Terrell Edmunds at strong safety? Not so fast. The simplest and most likely explanation is that Peterson will be part of the Steelers’ post-snap rotations on passing downs that they regularly employ. It’s a topic we discussed in a video earlier in the offseason, highlighting the inversions and rotations the team uses post-snap. They might show a single-high, Cover 1/3 look pre-snap but on the snap of the ball, rotate to a two-high, MOFO (middle of the field open) coverage to force the quarterback and the receivers to process on the fly.

Check out the whole video at the link here but here’s just one example of what I mean. Against the Atlanta Falcons last season, the Steelers showed MOFC (middle-of-field-closed) to a Cover 2, MOFO (middle-of-field-open) rotation. Watch the top of the screen, the RCB, be part of that rotation. In Cover 2, instead of being responsible for the flat, he’s responsible for the deep half and is mid-pointing #1 and #2 as they work vertical Terrell Edmunds, the middle hole player, works to carry #2 up the seam.

Peterson is unlikely to have the extreme versatility that Sutton had, roaming up all the defense, though if the Steelers draft and hit on an early-round corner, they may try to explore ways to get all three guys on the field and move Peterson around a bit. Still, don’t expect a full-time move to safety in the classic sense of “old corner trying to maximize the few years he has left.”

In order to keep someone like Minkah Fitzpatrick versatile, other guys must be, too. It’s not like baseball where one guy can play a bunch of positions and it matters less what the others are capable of doing. If Fitzpatrick is going to wear many hats, others will too or else you won’t be able to move Fitzpatrick. Losing Sutton was a big blow in that versatility mission he offered so much for the team, and Peterson won’t replicate it all. But perhaps he, Damontae Kazee, and someone else can combine to wear those hats and keep quarterbacks guessing on passing downs.

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