The moment the Pittsburgh Steelers decided to sign Damontae Kazee to a one-year contract shortly after the 2022 NFL Draft, fans wondered how he would fit with the defense. After all, the team not only gave Minkah Fitzpatrick a big-money deal, but brought back Terrell Edmunds too.
Three safeties make sense for depth, but Kazee was a player who had the pedigree of a starter.
When fans started to dig deeper into the Steelers’ defensive plan, especially after comparing plans of newly hired coach Brian Flores, they saw an opportunity for the team to use all three safeties...at once.
This defensive package wouldn’t be your typical nickel or dime sub package, but a unique way the Steelers could attack the opposition. Not the other way around.
In the final week of the preseason, Kazee was injured and placed on Injured Reserve (IR) to start the regular season. Following the team’s Week 9 bye, Kazee made his return to the field, and his debut as a Steeler. But there was one problem, his return didn’t mark the start of the safety trio. Not after Minkah Fitzpatrick was sidelined with an appendectomy the day before the game vs. the New Orleans Saints.
Somehow, someway Fitzpatrick is ready to play just eight days after having an organ in his body removed, and it will mark the first time all three safeties will be healthy and on the field together.
But, especially in regards to Fitzpatrick’s health, you have to wonder if Teryl Austin has any hesitation with playing Minkah so soon after surgery.
“I have none. If he’s available, that would be great.” Austin told the media leading up to the Week 11 game vs. the Cincinnati Bengals. “If he’s not, we’ll move on without him. Right now, until we get closer to the game, I don’t have much of an expectation. We’re just working with the guys we have right now. We’ll see where he’s at at the end of the week. He’s got plenty of reps under his belt, so I don’t worry about it if he’s not cleared or whatever until game time.”
With Fitzpatrick carrying no injury designation this weekend, you would imagine Austin has thought about how they would deploy this three safety look once they are all available.
“Same thing. It would be the same thing until we’re sure he’s out there, then we could explore it. Until then, we’ll just move along with things that we have and the guys that we have.”
You can understand why a coach with the experience of Austin would be hesitant to jump on a bandwagon which doesn’t have the chance of ever leaving the station. However, even if Fitzpatrick wasn’t able to play Sunday, Austin could rest a little easier knowing what kind of player Kazee is, and how valuable he would be for the defense.
“When we signed Damontae, we knew he was a starter-capable safety in this league. That’s why he was so attractive to us and being able to get him was very good for us and why early in the year, before he got hurt, we were working to get him on the field as much as possible. Because we think he does bring a positive impact to our team. Really good player, really good energy.
“As you can see, he’s a physical guy, he knows how to get around the ball. So, we were glad we had him and that he was up this past week, and we’re just looking for him to continue to improve moving forward and we’ll continue to figure out ways to get him on the field.”
When it comes to Kazee, it isn’t just his play on the field which is noteworthy, but also his personality. While Minkah Fitzpatrick is more of the silent assassin, Kazee has a loud and boisterous personality.
“How would I describe his personality?” Austin was asked. “I’ll tell you what, he’s almost like a guy that I would describe as he’s never seen a bad day. He lives life like that. He’s always got really good energy, really upbeat, in a good mood, positive. I think that’s a great attribute to have, and that’s what he is. That’s kind of his personality.”
Earlier this season the Steelers’ secondary had shown improvement, but still suffered the big play from time to time. They were beaten badly on more than one occasion against both the Buffalo Bills and Philadelphia Eagles. At least in Week 10 the defense was able to limit the big play, and getting players like Kazee back were a big part of their on-field success.
“Well, I think we were better last week. I think going into last week’s game, we had way too many plays, pass plays, over 20 yards. That was one of our things, to make sure we get those off our resume. I don’t think they had any last week. I think what it really was that the guys got into lab, they looked at the tape, saw what they were doing, figured it out and then worked in practice to make sure they finished those plays in practice. And so, it turned up in the game.
“I mean, you look at Levi [Wallace]’s play, look at Damontae’s play on the tipped ball because we always talk about how tips and overthrows should never hit the ground. Those are things that the guys, I think, just took a conscious effort and really just dove into it because it was something that was hurting our team and they know that we’ve got to have those plays, so it doesn’t hurt our team.”
While many fans have bene waiting to see the team’s trio of safeties doing damage on the field, they might want to temper expectations before the team deploys this package with any regularity. However, Sunday will be the first time the team will have their top three safeties all healthy and available, and it will be something to watch.
Be sure to stay tuned to BTSC for the latest news and notes surrounding the Steelers as they prepare for the Bengals in Week 11.