Any pursuit of an athletically demanding nature is going to see diminishing returns as one ages. It might be delayed longer for some than others, but if you work in a profession where your job is to compete against the best athletes in the world who could be considerably younger than you, there is no forgiveness against a reduction in athletic ability over time.
Future Hall of Fame cornerback Patrick Peterson is well aware of that, and understands that this next, likely last chapter of his professional career with the Pittsburgh Steelers will call for change. The team has told him as much. He’s ready for it. But it’s not just on the field. It’s off the field as well.
“I’m gonna be asked to do something that I’ve never done in my career before”, he said on the All Things Covered podcast, which he hosts with his cousin and former Steelers cornerback Bryant McFadden. “Just be literally lined up all over the field”.
Peterson has spent the vast majority of his career functioning as a cover cornerback, though he has moved around some. He’ll be asked to do more of that. And to make use of all of his accumulated resources including his knowledge.
“I was told that they’re looking forward to using not just my experience but all the intangibles that I bring to the game”, he said, “as far as the knowledge of knowing offense or just having me explore my athletic abilities a little bit more, here, now, in the latter part of my career—which is something that I’ve always wanted to do anyway”.
Even though he’s functioned mostly in one role throughout his 12-year NFL career, Peterson has long been a student of the game, something he’s prided himself in. Perhaps McFadden’s invoking of Steelers Hall of Famer Rod Woodson’s late-career shift to safety is a bit much—and that’s not what the Steelers are going to ask Peterson to do—but you get the idea.
“When you’ve always been that guy and a team has a guy, they want their guy on that guy. I wasn’t ever called to do anything else”, he said. “But I love the game. I know the game, know every position. So that’s something that won’t be hard for me, but it’s gonna be foreign, because I never did it before. I’m actually looking forward to it. I can’t wait to see what the outcome’s gonna be, and hopefully the ball could end up in my hands a little bit more”.
On that note, he actually had the second-most interceptions in his career last season with the Minnesota Vikings, picking off five passes. But it’s interestingly a sentiment Steelers safety Minkah Fitzpatrick has expressed as well, essentially wanting to be less predictable to defenses so he can pop up in more places and make plays.
Now, let’s not mistake this for being something more than it is. This doesn’t mean, as I suggested earlier, that he’s going to follow in Woodson’s path and become a safety or anything like that. And chances are whatever the Steelers tell him now, that’s not going to be how it ends up looking.
Then again, the draft could change things. Let’s say they draft Joey Porter Jr., or Deonte Banks, or even Christian Gonzalez. That player is a day-one starter on the outside, at least in the nickel. What do you do then? Maybe, just maybe, you slide Peterson into the slot? If that puts the Steelers’ best defense on the field in that situation, I think everyone would be on board.