Steelers News

Keanu Neal Would Start Over Damontae Kazee At Strong Safety ‘As Of Right Now’ According To Dulac

We don’t know just how interested they may have been in the position during the 2023 NFL Draft. We do know the Pittsburgh Steelers allowed their five-year veteran starting strong safety to walk in free agency on a cheap deal they evidently weren’t willing to match and signed two other safeties who have been backups most recently to larger contracts.

Damontae Kazee, though an experienced veteran starter in the past himself, was a backup in Pittsburgh last year. The Steelers re-signed him to a two-year, $6 million contract. Then they added Keanu Neal, a former first-round pick who has been more of a sub-package box defender in recent years, adding him on a two-year, $4.25 million deal.

According to Gerry Dulac of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, it’s Neal who would be in the starting lineup next to Minkah Fitzpatrick at safety, “as of right now”. At least, that’s what he said in a recent chat when a fan asked him directly which of the two would start.

A 2016 first-round pick of the Atlanta Falcons, Neal was a full-time starter throughout his five years there, but he also missed nearly two full seasons during that time. During his time with the Dallas Cowboys in 2021 and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in 2022, he was playing only 50-60 percent of the snaps. He logged 581 snaps in 17 games last year, for 52 percent of the total.

Kazee is a former fifth-round draft pick, also by the Atlanta Falcons, in 2017, and he and Neal were teammates there for four years. Kazee entered the starting lineup in 2018 and maintained that role. He was also with Neal in Dallas in 2021—as a starter over him.

Neal is the bigger, more physical player and is often asked to line up in the box as an extra defender, playing a linebacker-like role. While Kazee is regarded as a big hitter for a player his size—he is listed at 174 pounds—his skill set is generally more suited to lining up in coverage. He has 14 career interceptions, including two last season.

Many expect that the Steelers might use a platoon system at strong safety, with Neal playing on early downs in running situations and Kazee replacing him in obvious passing situations. That could be tricky when you’re trying to mix and match defenders and build chemistry in the secondary.

I don’t rightly know exactly what the Steelers plan to do right now, let alone what they will end up doing by September, but Dulac’s comment that Neal would be the starter as of now struck me as interesting. Perhaps it made me realize that it wasn’t the answer I was expecting.

The simplest answer may just be that the Steelers don’t know who the starter will be right now and that it will be decided in training camp. I’m sure that’s what they would tell you if the question were brought to them right now.

In before “That means Kazee will start”.

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