The Pittsburgh Steelers have wrapped up their 2021 NFL Preseason, but there are certain areas of the team which are very much a mystery as the team prepares for the regular season. One of those areas would be within the team’s secondary. To be more specific, the slot/nickel cornerback role.
Everyone knows Joe Haden has his side of the field locked down, but who plays opposite Haden is anyone’s guess.
Is it Cam Sutton?
Will James Pierre play outside, allowing Sutton to move inside?
Will Pierre and Sutton only swap positions in the dime defensive sub package?
What about the nickel? Who is destined to play the slot?
That last question is one no one, not even defensive coordinator Keith Butler knows at this point. In case you missed it, here were his comments on the position prior to the team’s final preseason game against the Carolina Panthers last Friday night in Charlotte, NC.
“You’ve got a bunch of DBs in there, we’ll see how they do.” Butler said of his current personnel. “If we’ve got anybody that’s a good blitzer, we’ll stick them in there in nickel and stuff like that. We want to pressure. We just don’t want to dadgum play blasé football. We want to get out there and get a good eye for people. We find a guy to do that, the better off he’s going to be.”
Friday night it was Tre Norwood’s turn to try his hand at the slot position. To Norwood’s credit, he played all defensive secondary positions at Oklahoma, but this was his first shot at playing inside at the professional level.
Overall, he thought it went well.
“It went well, my first time this entire preseason.” Norwood said of his first reps at the nickel cornerback position. “It felt good to be on the inside getting some action, getting to do it in a live game. We did it in practice this week but being able to get out there, doing it in a live game, I felt comfortable with it. It’s something that I like to do.”
Norwood’s overall stat line wasn’t mind blowing. He registered 4 total tackles, with 2 solo tackles, but his Pro Football Focus (PFF) grades were abysmal.
Run Defense: 66.0
Pass Rush: 54.1
Say what you want about PFF grades, but it is clear there is room for improvement from the rookie defensive back. Nonetheless, Keith Butler’s comments on Norwood, and his football IQ, show the team isn’t going to let his first, and only, play in the slot dictate any future repetitions at the position.
“Oh, he’s a very smart young man. A very smart young man. He’s smart enough. He’s like Cam Sutton.” Butler said. “They’re smart enough to play more than one position. My thing with all of them is they’ve got to make themselves valuable. How are you going to make yourself valuable? You make yourself valuable by playing special teams, by playing nickel, by playing safety, by playing corner. You play a lot of different positions. If you can do that, you make yourself valuable to the team. And the more valuable you make yourself to the team, the best chance you’ve got to make the team.”
Maybe the slot isn’t the best spot for Norwood, but he certainly follows the motto of “the more you can do”, and it is paying off. Norwood is an essential lock to make the Steelers’ 53-man roster, and this as a 7th-round draft pick. Overall, Norwood has been pleased with how his first professional preseason went.
“I felt it went really well.” Norwood commented about his first preseason. “I was just excited to be out there playing ball and taking strides each and every game. Learning, that’s the biggest thing with the preseason and camp, learning and taking those steps and getting better each and every day and each and every rep. I felt like I did that.”
While Norwood didn’t light the world on fire in his debut in the slot, he is the latest player the Steelers have thrown at the position to see if they will stick. If/when Arthur Maulet’s ankle heals, you would expect him to have the first shot at the nickel position, but Norwood’s experience now gives them another player to utilize there if need be.
Be sure to stay tuned to BTSC for the latest news and notes surrounding the black and gold as they prepare for the upcoming 2021 regular season.