While the Steelers double dipping at cornerback during the 2023 NFL Draft wasn’t a surprise, perhaps the fact that they took two outside corners would be. They did sign a veteran free agent while the draft was going on who is capable of playing in the slot, but there is less room among outside cornerbacks on the roster.
That’s not necessarily the only thing seventh-rounder Cory Trice Jr. can or may be asked to do, though. He came to college as a safety before moving to cornerback, and it’s conceivable that he may wind up back there at some point. But not yet. And that’s not how he sees himself.
“Honestly, I think I’m a corner”, he told reporters following his seventh-round selection, via transcript provided by the team’s media department. “Obviously, that’s what I’ve been playing my whole career for the most part, but anything I can do to help the team win, I’m definitely willing to do that”.
The 6’3”, 215-pounder would look good anywhere in the secondary—except perhaps in the slot—but like fourth-round pick Nick Herbig, the Steelers intend to focus him in on one position before experimenting with moving him around, or moving him entirely.
Defensive backs coach Grady Brown acknowledged that the ultimate solution to the question of what position he is remains open, but the Stelers like where he’s starting. “I think a lot of those answers will be found out when he gets in here and we start moving him around”, he said, via the team’s website. “You look at a person’s ability to learn different positions and everything like that, but one thing he’s shown is that he can be a corner in this league”.
I think that is pretty much self-explanatory. They drafted him because they believe he can be an NFL cornerback. Not because he can be an NFL safety. His cornerback attributes and not his potential to transition to safety is the reason why he’s here. Not that it should be surprising.
And it could be cost-saving if it results in the Steelers moving on from veteran Ahkello Witherspoon, who is due to make $4 million in base salary in 2023. That should be roughly a $3 million swing or so, give or take, if he is displaced.
Along with the second-round addition at the position, Pittsburgh now projects to have Patrick Peterson, Levi Wallace, Joey Porter Jr., Arthur Maulet, the recently signed Chandon Sullivan, and James Pierre at cornerback. The rest in the room are more likely to be fighting for their job, including Witherspoon and Trice. And even the later spots in the first sentence will very much have to earn their place, even if they might be perceived as inside the bubble (by some; by others, perhaps not).
For the conspiratorial-minded fans among us, though, perhaps it’s worth observing that the Steelers don’t list Trice at a cornerback but rather as a defensive back, a label they tend to give players who are more obviously capable of moving between corner and safety. Tre Norwood and Duke Dawson are the other members of the secondary listed under “DB” instead of “CB” or ‘”S”.
But I wouldn’t read into it.