Sometimes the most frustrating part of a conversation is what you didn't say, or even get the chance to say. In those instances, you are left only with regret and without an outlet for your response. Let me provide a little backstory to help clarify my ramblings.
Monday night on our BTSC podcast, the Steelers Hangover, one of the topics of conversation was discussing various Steelers players who we believed had a real opportunity to exceed expectations in training camp and the preseason enough to surprise the fan base by bursting the proverbial bubble and making the Steelers final roster. Our knowledgeable audience never fail to deliver, and they mentioned plenty of possible candidates.
One possibility mentioned was none other than Steelers rookie DB Tre Norwood, a sixth round selection out of Oklahoma. Mike Tomlin called him a swiss army knife of a defender after his selection on the third day of the 2021 NFL Draft. My distinguished cohosts on the podcast, Bryan Anthony Davis and Tony Defeo, discussed his talents and chances for a few moments as I waited anxiously with baited breath. I had a lot to say about Norwood actually, a young man who I believe has a real opportunity to make the roster. Sadly, the conversation shifted in a different direction and I was left with an opinion and nobody to share it with. This article is my opportunity to confess my opinion and support for Tre Norwood, and my belief in his Steelers future.
I watched multiple games of Norwood's collegiate career with the Oklahoma Sooners, mainly when they played my home state WVU Mountaineers. As a Mountaineer fan, I mainly scan opposing defenses each game looking for potential mismatches that I feel WVU can exploit. I usually am able to rather quickly identify mismatches in the other direction, defenders the Mountaineers need to focus some extra attention to or avoid altogether if at all possible. Norwood definitely fell into the second category.
Norwood lined up all over the Sooners defensive formations in his career. He started out as mainly a boundary corner early on in his career, where he showed solid athleticism and a certain swagger that belied his experience. After he returned from a ACL injury that caused him to miss a year, he appeared to lose some of his short area quickness and long speed. That is expected for many players returning from that injury, one that often requires a couple of years to completely recover from.
Norwood relied even more on his superior intelligence and instincts to make up for any loss in athleticism that he was still in the process of recovering. His unique ability to recognize and diagnosis offensive concepts allowed him to stay a step ahead of the opposition. His knowledge and understanding of the Sooners defense allowed him to play multiple positions in the defensive backfield, although his lack of physicality limits him to free safety consideration only.
The one aspect of Norwood's skill set and intangibles that stands out the most is his ball hawking ability. He appears to recognize tendencies on the fly, and the special timing needed to take advantage of the opportunity. He trusts what he sees, and reacts accordingly. That only happens after hours of film study and a certain level of confidence that comes along with it.
Nobody knows how these abilities will transfer to the professional level, with the steep increase in talent and difficulty, but I like Norwood's chances more than most for a few reasons. Norwood was drafted due to his impressive versatility. Mike Tomlin admitted no less in his draft day comment. The Steelers love to have depth players capable of backing up multiple positions. One of those players, Cameron Sutton, has been outstanding in this role for a number of seasons as he patiently waiting his opportunity at a starting position. Now that Sutton has been penciled in as a trusted starter, his valued versatility and multi positional depth needs to be filled. I believe that the Steelers have Norwood in mind as a possible replacement.
The second reason I believe that Norwood is the man for the job I gleaned from a post draft comment made by his father in an interview. His father spoke about how Norwood was still gaining confidence after the injury and how his athleticism was gradually returning. If, and it's a big if, Norwood is able to return all the way back to his pre knee injury form he may just have the requisite athleticism; coupled with his impressive intangibles, needed to become a sixth round bargain capable of not only making the roster but also an impact on the field on defense.
Late round draft picks and undrafted free agents often make NFL rosters and continue their professional dreams because they do one thing exceptionally well. Others survive by bringing superior versatility to the equation. Tre Norwood maybe the rare exception that fits both descriptions. A ballhawk with uncommon versatility. I believe that was the Steelers plan all along.