Ladies and gentlemen, Terrell Edmunds has left the building.
That statement recalls images of my childhood, when the announcer would verbalize that the King, Elvis Pressley, had left the venue after a performance. As a child, I never really understood why that announcement was necessary. Decades later, I still don't. Regardless, that's neither here or there, so I digress. Let's get back to Terrell Edmunds absence.
The Steelers entered the 2023 offseason with more than a few questions that needed answered. With the NFL Draft in the rear view mirror, the Steelers have done an admirable job of answering the vast majority of those concerns. Only a few remain, but one of the biggest is how are the Steelers going to replace the underrated contributions of Terrell Edmunds.
The contributions of Edmunds were far more valuable and consistent than the novice Steelers fan could comprehend. His versatility was underrated, his athleticism was essential, and his durability was overlooked. Edmunds selfless team first attitude allowed his big play colleagues to focus on what they do best. He was a reliable security blanket on the back end of the defense. Edmunds didn't make many splash plays, but his prescence allowed others to make plenty.
We are all familiar with the "You don't know what you got till it's gone" statement, or the "We work hard so you don't have to" slogan. Both fit Edmunds to a tee.
If life has taught us anything, it's the fact that nobody is irreplaceable. Life goes on, and so does business. The Steelers are big business, and they have big plans. Rest assured, they will replace Edmunds, even if it takes multiple contributors, which I wholeheartedly think it will. Here are the likely candidates:
Edmunds was incredibly durable, so the Steelers seldom got a taste of what life without him would look like. When Edmunds missed a couple of games last season, Fitzpatrick assumed the majority of his responsibilities. There is absolutely nothing on the football field that Edmunds contributed that Fitzpatrick can't accomplish, and most likely improve upon. But why would anybody want Fitzpatrick to waste his ball hawking abilities while playing strong safety. Leave the grunt work to the mere mortals, and let Fitzpatrick make the spectacular seem routine. This is definitely not the best option.
Neal was brought in to replace Edmunds, and he should do a solid impersonation. Neal has the size and physicality to duplicate many of Edmunds contributions, but he definitely doesn't possess Edmunds exceptional speed. Edmunds utilized that speed to clean up plenty of his teammates mistakes, especially missed tackles and bad angles, thus limiting the damage in the process. That aforementioned security blanket aspect will be sorely missed, rest assured.
To be honest, Kazee was far more physical than I expected him to be last season. I expected Kazee to be what he has always been, one of the best true deep safeties in the league. He still has excellent range and instincts in deep coverage, but he showed a willingness to aggressively attack the ball carriers that I couldn't remember seeing with his previous employers. Edmunds was a classic box safety, but he took more reps out of the slot than most fans realize, especially against larger targets. Kazee has experience playing the slot, albeit not much with the Steelers. He lacks the size to match up with bigger pass catchers, so he will only be able to pick up a portion of Edmunds responsibilities in this instance.
Joey Porter Jr. and Cory Trice Jr.
Edmunds was an underrated tight end stopper for the Steelers. Too many fans have forgotten the Steelers issues with covering tight ends prior to Edmunds arrival. The rest of us struggle to forget the carnage, especially the memories of Rob Gronkowski taunting a helpless Sean Davis. Edmunds ended those nightmares, like a gift from above. I fully expect the Steelers to bring rookie corners Porter and Trice along slowly, as they learn the finer points of playing the position at an NFL level from grizzled Grandpa Patrick Peterson, but they could prove too talented to keep off the field. One area of lower expectations would be working the slot, where they could utilize their press coverage capabilities to the fullest, with safety help backing them up. Both young corners have the height and length to match up with tight ends who work off the line of scrimmage or split wide. There are other possible corner candidates, like Levi Wallace and James Pierre, but I believe the two youngsters are the most likely options.
This next option requires a little outside the box imagination. Most fans believe that Muse was brought in to be a special teams specialist, and help ease the loss of standouts Derek Watt and Marcus Allen. That only makes sense, considering how Muse has yet to establish himself as a NFL caliber defender, but I believe something more is possible. Muse was an athletic LB/S hybrid coming out of Clemson in 2020. I was extremely high on his potential fit with the Steelers, mainly as an off ball linebacker, where he could utilize his 4.41 speed sideline to sideline, and in coverage. Muse never got to show that ability with the Raiders and Seahawks, due to extenuating circumstances, mainly injuries, but it wouldn't shock me in the slightest if a change in scenery, and surrounding talent, doesn't open up additional possibilities for his potential. Muse is substantially more athletically gifted than Marcus Allen, the man he was brought in to replace, another fellow hybrid that the Steelers tried to utilize unsuccessfully.
Regardless of what combination of personnel that the Steelers utilize to handle Edmunds responsibilities, don't be surprised when there are inevitable growing pains.
Everybody is replaceable, but some are easier than others.