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Tre Norwood shines brightly in second-year Steelers debut

The defensive back turned heads during his snaps against the Seahawks.

Abigail/Pittsburgh Steelers

During 2021 training camp and preseason, seventh-round pick Tre Norwood impressed Mike Tomlin and the Steelers’ coaches enough to earn a spot on the 53-man roster.

In his first year in Pittsburgh, Norwood played in all 17 games, notching an interception and four pass deflections — yet he played just 33% of defensive snaps and 41% of special teams plays. While listed as a defensive back, Norwood saw time at free safety (121 snaps), slot corner (19), box safety (13) and even defensive line (one).

Posting a strong relief campaign, many figured Norwood would be in line for a greater percentage of playing time this upcoming year. That concept was rendered murkier when the Steelers signed veteran safety Damontae Kazee.

Saturday night offered us a first look at how the Steelers would deploy Kazee, especially with Minkah Fitzpatrick inactive. Kazee played 24 snaps with the modified “first team” defense before Norwood filled his shoes at free safety.

That’s when the magic began.

Norwood led all Steelers defenders (minimum seven or more snaps) in Pro Football Focus grade with an 82.8 rating, flying all over the field. From tremendous pass breakups to aggressive run pursuits to strong tackling, the second-year defensive back made a compelling audition in his first snaps of 2022.

One area in which Norwood excelled was coverage, his ball skills shining magnificently.

On this first play, Norwood roams to the left within the two-high zone coverage. Stalking Drew Lock’s eyes, Norwood notices the intended target: Colby Parkinson. From there, the safety wastes little movement en route to closing ground and blasting Parkinson, forcing the incompletion. Fellow safety Donovan Stiner was also in position, but this touchdown-saving play by Norwood is unbelievable.

Norwood was only credited with one pass deflection, but he really should have been awarded two. Now over the middle, Norwood sticks with tight end Tyler Mabry just long enough until he can extend his arms and swat the ball away. Granted, it does seem this pass from Lock was tipped by Isaiahh Loudermilk, but the close by Norwood is nonetheless impressive.

Norwood’s range was truly eye-popping against Seattle. With the Steelers in a Cover 3 Buzz look, Norwood begins as the outside safety but ultimately is the only safety deep. When Lock launches the pass, Norwood starts on the far hash but briskly races over to meet the target. The Lock throw is offline, but Norwood would have jarred it loose if it were on target. What’s also key is that Norwood pulls up in order to avoid penalty for hitting a defenseless receiver.

Norwood played eight of his 47 snaps in the slot, including this one below.

Lined up in man against Parkinson, Norwood is at a significant size disadvantage — the tight end is a massive 6-foot-7, while Norwood is just 6-feet. Parkinson runs a slant, but Norwood neutralizes his outside leverage with patience and hands. Parkinson wanted a pass interference called, and Norwood should be careful to avoid outright hooking defenders, but this did ultimately end as a solid incompletion for the safety.

Moreover, Norwood flourished in tackling and downhill play versus the Seahawks. The second-year Steeler momentarily stopped a touchdown via this run stop. Flying in from up top, Norwood halts a draw by squaring his feet and shoulders and pouncing aggressively to cut down Travis Homer.

Some safeties are hesitant to exert full effort on run plays, yet that is not the case with Norwood. On multiple occasions, the DB worked well across the field to reinforce defenders and finally bring down backs, many of which had broken off chunk plays.

Along the same lines, it’s evident that Norwood isn’t afraid to implement a downhill, aggressive style against the run.

On this carry, Norwood backs up Buddy Johnson, who misses the tackle entirely.

Altogether, Norwood’s thumping style, willingness to take on blockers and inkling to accrue tackles by whatever means against the run evoke shades of Minkah Fitzpatrick, who did so ceaselessly last year.

One minor area of improvement for Norwood could be shedding blocks. During this play-action pass to Bo Melton, Norwood does well to latch onto Mabry. But when corner Carlins Platel can’t wrap up Melton, Norwood is cleared, opening additional yardage on the field-flipping play. It’s much easier said than done for Norwood to wrestle himself from the tight end here, but at least slowing down Melton would have resulted in fewer yards after the catch.

It was hard not to notice Norwood’s exceptional play Saturday night; Steelers fans should be excited by a potential diamond-in-the-rough defensive back who showed flashes his rookie season. If Norwood’s play continues at this elevated level in the preseason and beyond, look for defensive coordinator Teryl Austin to work him into additional packages, especially given his versatility and robust talent.