Tre Norwood was the 245th player drafted in the 2021 NFL Draft, the first of two seventh round picks by the Pittsburgh Steelers. He was quickly overshadowed when 9 picks later the Steelers selected punter Pressley Harvin III. He has remained overshadowed by the rest of the draft class since, at least in hype.
Norwood was described as a “Jack of all trades safety” by Mike Tomlin when he announced the selection of Norwood, and while he has a diverse skillset, the Steelers have kept him at safety throughout the offseason, and into their first preseason game.
When the Steelers took the field last Thursday, Tre Norwood was the starting free safety. He didn’t just hold Minkah Fitzpatrick’s spot though, on the few plays where the television broadcast showed Tre Norwood’s play, he looked a little bit like Minkah Fitzpatrick.
First quarter, 7:51. Tre Norwood is the safety lined up in the end zone between the “L” and “O” to start the play.
One of the things that stood out immediately when Minkah Fitzpatrick hit the field for the Pittsburgh Steelers is how well he read the flow of a play and put himself in position to make a play. Tre Norwood showed that on this play.
The quarterback starts by looking to his right, and Norwood follows that gaze. Not just running out there though, he understands the progression is going to be right to left and takes away the receiver that ends up the second read, as the quarterback tries to find his third read the pass rush arrives and the play is dead. You can see Norwood still reading the play and moving to that third read. Norwood doesn’t have the athleticism or pedigree that Fitzpatrick had coming into the NFL, but he isn’t far behind when it comes to reading the play and getting to the right spot. Having Norwood in the same room with Fitzpatrick watching film and learning from Fitzpatrick can’t hurt either.
First quarter, 7:07. Tre Norwood is the safety on the hash marks to the right side of the screen. Antoine Brooks Jr. is up near the line of scrimmage, farthest to the top of the screen.
I used this angle because this play by Brooks Jr. says a lot about him. Brooks Jr. showed his blitzing ability and the intelligence to handle the schemes the Steelers use to help cover for their nickel back’s weaknesses in coverage, but as you see here, he doesn’t have the quickness Mike Hilton brought to these plays. If Antoine Brooks Jr. doesn’t work out in the nickel role, it won’t be for lack of effort or intelligence, it will likely be that he’s just a hair slower than Mike Hilton was, and in the NFL, fractions of a second are big.
Brooks Jr. still disrupts the play, forcing the quarterback to scramble and that results in a near interception. On a different angle you can see how Tre Norwood made that play.
Tre Norwood (#21) is visible to the right side of the quarterback as the clip starts.
As the quarterback starts his scramble, Norwood goes with him. Norwood doesn’t just read the quarterback though, he checks a few times to see the routes around him, and puts himself in position to break on the ball once it is thrown. The result is Norwood getting to the ball first, and the receiver has to break up the pass that was intended for him.
Tre Norwood isn’t Minkah Fitzpatrick, but he shows some of the traits that made Fitzpatrick such a great fit for the Steelers defense. Similar to how Diontae Johnson isn’t Antonio Brown, but his route running and change of direction that were reminiscent of Brown helped him fit in the offense and be productive early on.
At the moment, Tre Norwood seems to be the front runner for the role of Minkah Fitzpatrick’s backup, but his ability to fit similar roles as Fitzpatrick could also be valuable as a dime back. Fitzpatrick is far more dangerous when he’s allowed to attack the offensive play, and that is rarely the job of a deep safety. It’s one of the reasons the Steelers started dropping Cameron Sutton deep and moving Fitzpatrick up into a robber-esque role on long yardage downs. Tre Norwood could be just the backup free safety, or he could also be the Steelers dime back, and give them the same kind of flexibility with Minkah Fitzpatrick as Sutton did. In the preseason games to come, how the Steelers use Tre Norwood will be something to watch.