PITTSBURGH — It’s rare for a starting position on an NFL team to be wide open entering training camp.
But for the Pittsburgh Steelers, their starting Nickel corner spot has a half dozen candidates entering Thursday’s first full squad workout of training camp.
Lining up to replace departed Nickel Mike Hilton are second-year players Antoine Brooks Jr. and James Pierre, free-agent veteran Arthur Maulet and rookies Shakur Brown, David Gilbert and Tre Norwood.
On Thursday, it was Brooks, that got the first opportunity to make an impact, and he did, intercepting a Ben Roethlisberger pass intended for JuJu Smith-Schuster while working with the first team Nickel unit.
“He made a great play,” Roethlisberger said after practice. “It was one of the sneakiest little slingshots that I’ve ever seen. It would have never gotten called, but my angle is perfect to see it. …
“I smiled and shook my head, like what a good play. We need those plays. He’s filling Mike Hilton’s shoes, who has been a rock on that defense for aw hill, so for him to make that play, I think I was happy for him, really. As mad as I was for throwing an interception, it was a great play.”
Speaking about other players, head coach Mike Tomlin said that the focus this week will be to get repetitions to the players that he intends to start in the Hall of Fame Game against Dallas on Aug. 5, so Brooks’ presence with the first team on Thursday suggests he could be in line to get the first, best chance to secure the team’s vacant Nickel role.
Brooks was the team’s sixth-round pick out of Maryland in last year’s 2020 NFL Draft. He played in four games last season, recording just two tackles while playing 29 snaps of defense over four games.
But with Hilton moving on, Cam Sutton moving to outside cornerback to replace Steven Nelson and no significant additions to the squad at cornerback, Brooks is just as well positioned as any of the other options to step up and grab hold of the role, if he can continue his solid start to camp.