The Pittsburgh Steelers had a number of question marks coming into the 2021 season. Between a revamped offensive line and questions at the quarterback position, there were many things the team needed to work out during the preseason. With the offensive line set for Week 1 after the Steelers released their depth chart on Monday, there were still more questions at the cornerback position.
The biggest question when it comes to the Steelers secondary has to do with the slot cornerback position used in various sub packages. With the Steelers listing slot cornerback on the depth chart in recent years, including during the 2021 preseason, the position was specifically left off the depth chart for Week 1.
In his weekly press conference on Tuesday, Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin was asked about the omission of the slot cornerback position on the depth chart.
“I did that by design,” Tomlin confessed with a grin. “We’ve got some options there and I choose to hold those cards close to the vest.”
With no definitive answer at the position for the Steelers after four games of the 2021 NFL preseason, perhaps it is wise for the Steelers to not inform the Buffalo Bills exactly how they intend to defend certain packages.
As the Steelers continued to cycle players through the defense throughout the preseason, no clear slot cornerback emerged due to both injury and efficiency. In the Hall of Fame Game to kick off the NFL preseason, Steelers 2020 sixth-round draft pick Antoine Brooks Jr. was the main person playing the slot for the Steelers. Unfortunately, Brooks suffered an injury which kept him out of the lineup and on the chopping block when the Steelers had to cut down players throughout the preseason. After being placed on the Waived/Injured List, the Steelers reached an injury settlement with Brooks who subsequently signed with the Los Angeles Rams practice squad.
Following Brooks was 2021 free agent acquisition Arthur Maulet who took his turn at the slot cornerback position. Unfortunately, Maulet also came down with an injury and was unable to finish the preseason although he was recently signed back to the Steelers 53-man roster.
With other possibilities such as 2021 seventh-round draft pick Tre Norwood as well as the option of sliding outside cornerback Cameron Sutton into the slot, it’s not clear at this time how the Steelers plan to fill the position on Sunday against the Bills.
When asked if he plans on sliding Cam Sutton to the inside and have a player, such as James Pierre, come in an outside cornerback, Tomlin talked about some of the possibilities that Steelers could deploy.
“Cam Sutton is a very capable guy who has done that inside and it’s reasonable to anticipate that he’s going to do it in some form or fashion,” Tomlin answered. “But he’s also going to play outside as well. He’s done an awesome job of that during the team development process. We’re going to spin the dial through the division of labor in that area and I’m excited about being able to do so and some of the mystery associated with what we’re going to do in that area.”
While it may frustrate some Steelers fans to not know how the Steelers are going to use their personnel in some packages when it comes to defending the pass, it’s also advantageous if the Buffalo Bills aren’t sure what they should expect either. Regardless, to get a true answer of how the Steelers are going to handle the responsibilities at slot cornerback, everyone will ultimately have to tune in this Sunday at 1 PM as the Steelers take on the Buffalo Bills to see exactly how the Steelers will tackle the issue and if they can ultimately find success.
For more information on Mike Tomlin’s press conference, check out the podcast below:
If you want to watch Mike Tomlin’s press conference, you can do so below:
#LIVE: Coach Tomlin addresses the media ahead of our Week 1 game against the Bills. https://t.co/sW61MBGLfu— Pittsburgh Steelers (@steelers) September 7, 2021