PITTSBURGH — The Steelers have a number of players on their roster that have either played slot corner or have the kinds of skills and abilities that might project to that spot.
But through the first three weeks of training camp, it has been largely two players that have been vying to take over for Mike Hilton as the team’s Nickel corner: second-year converted safety Antoine Brooks Jr. and former New York Jets free agent Arthur Maulet.
With Brooks missing a couple of weeks with a hamstring injury, it seems that Maulet has pulled ahead in the competition, and a pick six of Josh Dobbs in practice on Wednesday put an exclamation on that fact.
But it’s not over yet, as the Steelers defensive staff still has a hole card.
“I don’t know if you could say anybody’s locking that thing down,” defensive coordinator Keith Butler said on Tuesday. “I’m not ready to say yet. We’ll see as we go along. It’s an important position for us. He’s gotten better, I know that. He’s gotten better. But there’s still a competition there. We haven’t made up our minds in terms of who’s going to start there and stuff like that. It’s an important position for us, no doubt. We’ve got to figure out who our best DBs are and try to put them on the field if we can.”
Cam Sutton, the team’s Dime defender for the last few seasons, has mostly been working at outside cornerback during training camp, but he can clearly play in the slot. On Wednesday, he did just that, with James Pierre getting some work with the first group outside and Sutton moving inside.
“We’ve got a lot guys working there,” head coach Mike Tomlin said. “We’ve got options that haven’t been working there, to be quite honest with you. I think today was the first day we put Cam Sutton inside, for example. So, what you’re looking at might not be the only candidates.”
Rookie safety Tre Norwood and and cornerback Shakur Brown are some other players that could be realistic options, but the idea of Sutton moving inside is something the Steelers have been talking about for a while.
“We like 25 [Antoine Brooks Jr.] and 35 [Arthur Maulet] in terms of their physicality and stuff like that,” Butler said. “We like the covering ability of 20 [Cameron Sutton]. 42 [James Pierre] has played well for us in this part of our season. Could he be part of the starting deal? We’ll see. We’ll see as we go, but that certainly is a possibility.”
With Brooks returning to practice on Wednesday, the Steelers will have their full complement of options to play in Saturday’s third preseason game against the Detroit Lions, traditionally the one the team has played its starters the most.
Whoever does the best job in the stadium with the lights on might then truly be at the head of the pack.