PITTSBURGH — The Steelers secondary has kept things afloat without Minkah Fitzpatrick in the fold over the last month. While some of that certainly goes back to Joey Porter Jr. and his quick ascension into the lineup, Pittsburgh’s veteran leader at the safety position in Damontae Kazee has helped that room string along well enough after not just losing Fitzpatrick, but Elijah Riley and Keanu Neal in the same timeframe.
Kazee has played well. The biggest flaw has been his inability to cash in on potential interceptions, and he had at least two opportunities against the Bengals on Sunday. But Pittsburgh needed a veteran to stabilize the backend of that group. When a guy like Kazee, who is highly respected in that locker room, steps up to make plays and the calls, the others notice that. Mike Tomlin did, too, and pointed out Kazee’s importance in the stretch the defense is having, which has them leading the NFL in scoring defense since the bye week.
“Man, he’s been really good and been really steady,” Tomlin said. “He’s a good communicator. He’s a veteran player. I like the relationship that he has with some of the younger guys like he and Joey Porter have an interesting relationship. Big brother, little brother, if you will. He gives Joey a hard time in all the right ways. Joey’s appreciative of his communication skills and his veteran approach, and you know, I think he’s just been really solid. I can’t say enough about him. Wish he had caught one or two of them balls he got a hand on last week but we’re working.”
Kazee is a welcome addition to the group’s rising play. Early in the year, Kazee’s play struggled, but with his move to free safety, Kazee’s play took a sudden leap back to the levels it was at a year ago when he was the third safety in their three safety sets.
This offseason, Kazee agreed to a two-year deal. It all ended up with Kazee as the starting strong safety, or at the very least, a significant contributor when the team went to a beefier lineup on the back end with Neal. Kazee played an essential role in the team’s defense after returning from an injury in the second half of the 2022 season. But this year, it’s different. Kazee has been healthy for most of the year and has become the one to take on the leadership role without Fitzpatrick in the fold for so long.
Now, it appears Fitzpatrick is on his way back, but it’s unlikely the team’s defense will get to where they are right now without the help of Kazee and his steady level of play. He helped get Trenton Thompson to come along quickly, and since then, there have been no more communication gaffes. That’s a direction reflection of Kazee’s leadership and communication ability. He does not get much praise, but he should for how he has steadied that group.