PITTSBURGH — The Steelers slot cornerback competition will be one that likely will not be decided until days before the Steelers take on the Buffalo Bills to start the 2021 season.
With 2020 Nickel back Mike Hilton moving on, and 2020 Dime back Cam Sutton plays expected to play mainly on the outside, the Steelers could have two holes to fill in the slot. Young, promising cornerback in James Pierre said on Wednesday he has been exclusively working on the outside, despite Mike Tomlin saying before the draft he would be the Nickel corner if the team had to play a game at that point.
So, just what does Tomlin and staff want from their slot cornerback? Mainly, Tomlin wants physicality and ferocity in whoever ends up winning the job.
“The most determining trait to me in terms of playing inside is physicality or the willingness to be physical,” Tomlin said. “I think we all would agree that’s a distinguishing trait that Mike Hilton displayed. So, no one’s been given an opportunity to display that based on work to this point. That’s going to be such a significant factor in determining who occupies that role for us.”
Tomlin wants to the physicality mainly for the Steelers’ blitz schemes. While he acknowledged teams know they bring the linebackers in their base defense, he does not want that pressure to cool off in subpackages.
“We want to be able to apply pressure in all circumstances,” Tomlin said. “And we are not going to let offensive personnel groups or groupings diminish our personality. Everyone knows in our base defense we like to bring our backers and so forth. So when we go to sub, that is just an extension of that, so we are exchanging one bird for another if you will, or one chess piece for another. Regardless of the personnel group we are in, regardless of the personnel group that an offense is in, we are coming because that is our personality and we covet players who display those skills.”
It seems whoever is able to be the physical player of the group will win the slot cornerback position. It could also be a rotation on the inside, where the more physical player gets early, running down snaps while Sutton kicks inside on obvious passing downs. Regardless, Tomlin has laid out just what he wants from his starting slot cornerback in 2021.