PITTSBURGH — The Steelers got a better level of play than they expected out of Trenton Thompson. When Pittsburgh decided to start Thompson as injuries mounted at safety, he was just asked to fill in serviceably, but he did much more than just that. Thompson grabbed an interception last week against the Bengals, and in his two starts, the team did not take a step back in the secondary. They were able to run their full menu of coverages as a result.
Now, Minkah Fitzpatrick is coming back to start across from Damontae Kazee. But where does that leave Thompson? Well, it likely means that he will immediately become the third safety in all of their three safety sets, and to Fitzpatrick who watched him bloom on the sideline, Thompson earned it.
“Well, he did a lot of good things. He made a lot of plays,” Fitzpatrick said. “Credit to him, he earned himself a helmet and he did what he had to get out there. However we use him, whether that is with three safeties, dime he’s going to be out there for sure.”
When all three of the top safeties were down in training camp, Thompson stepped off the street to help run those practices, but in the meantime, he made plays, including an interception in his first preseason game.
For Thompson, he has turned into a real playmaker. He brings athleticism to their secondary, but more than that, Thompson’s instincts and ball-hawking capabilities have flashed, too. Thompson made the read to fool Jake Browning into an interception on a critical second-half drive.
“Nah, it wasn’t anything I saw — it was just playing football and being where I’m supposed to be on my drop, and he just happened to throw it to me. I dropped one last week, so this made up for it,” Thompson said.
Defensive coordinator Teryl Austin is not sure how much of a role that Thompson will command, but it seems he will be out there and have a defined role. It will be about how robust that role is and what packages the Steelers want to run to fit him into that plan.
“We’ll see about that. I think he has. He’s really — I think the last two weeks, talk about a guy, for some people say come out of nowhere, but he was given his opportunity, and I think he thrived in that opportunity. If he’s a good football player and he can continue to help us, we need to find a place for him,” Austin said.
All it takes is one play for someone like Thompson to get a grip on an NFL roster, though. And he has done just that. His interception was a game-changing play. And despite the team getting healthy, Thompson might be a hidden gem the Steelers have pulled out of nowhere that must keep playing.