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Steelers DBs Doing Whatever It Takes to Fill Gaps in Defense



Steelers SS Trenton Thompson
Pittsburgh Steelers safety Trenton Thompson in a game against the Indianapolis Colts on Dec. 17, 2023,. -- Ed Thompson / Steelers Now

PITTSBURGH — Pittsburgh Steelers safety Trenton Thompson is hoping to return to practice on Wednesday, as he works his way back from a stinger he suffered in last Saturday’s loss to the Indianapolis Colts.

If there’s a bit more urgency than normal in his recovery, well that makes sense. The Steelers are basically out of safeties.

The Steelers started the season without Thompson on the depth chart at all. The club came into training camp with Minkah Fitzpatrick and Damontae Kazee as starters, Keanu Neal as the third safety and important depth, Elijah Riley as a versatile backup at multiple positions and special teams captain Miles Killebrew capable of playing in a pinch.

Right now, only Killebrew remains.

The Steelers have had their safety depth gashed over the second half of the season. Fitzpatrick is out this week with a knee injury. Kazee has been suspended for the rest of the 2023 season by the NFL. Neal is still out with a rib injury. Riley remains on the injured reserve, but is attempting a comeback from a high ankle sprain this week.

It’s a good thing they went through this once already this season. In the first few weeks of training camp, they had another rash of injuries and absences at the position, and that’s when the club first brought Thompson in.

The San Diego State product started the season on the practice squad, but was called up when Fitzpatrick was injured earlier this season, and has acquitted himself well. He has played in six games and made his first career start alongside Kazee.

He’ll probably start again this week if he can play.

“Definitely trying to push through, because our room is definitely going through some things,” Thompson said. “I’m just trying to be a good teammate, but I also have to be safe and sound.”

If he does play this week, Thompson will be the more experienced starting safety, as Patrick Peterson is currently in line to start at free safety. That has the youngster all that much more fired up to get back into the lineup.

“It just shows you that players aren’t selfish, at all,” Thompson said. “It’s a little different seeing Pat P at safety. Just a player that a future Hall of Fame and a baller. He’ll do whatever he needs to do. It’s not surprising. …

“Since he’s not in his original position, it definitely makes me want to get back out there, just so he can get back to doing what he’s doing. I wouldn’t want to be a safety and they say, ‘Hey man, we’re thin at corner. Can you play corner?’ That’s not my go-to. I’ll do it, but you want to play where you’re most comfortable at and you can make plays. Definitely trying to get back out there.”

Practice squad veteran Eric Rowe figures to play a good bit this week, whether Thompson does or not. He and Peterson have been the starting safeties at practice early in the week with Thompson sidelined.

Defensive coordinator Teryl Austin said on Wednesday that no matter who plays safety, things will have to be a little bit different for the Steelers defense.

“If you had your normal guys that you started with and had a lot of reps there, you could do a lot more,” Austin said. “When you don’t, and you have guys that have limited experience back there, you kind of tailor things a little bit more. You’re a little bit tighter in what you do and the things you do.”

Head coach Mike Tomlin said on Monday that he didn’t think that process went well over the course of team’s loss to the Indianapolis Colts game on Saturday after Kazee and Fitzpatrick were lost on consecutive plays.

“The schematic component of it needs to be improved,” Tomlin said. “What I mean is and I was really transparent with our team at times, components of ball look like September ball where some of the guys that are playing have September levels of playing experience. So we can’t make December calls with September people playing experience.

“So, I think it’s important as we formulate a plan this week, that we’re really thoughtful about the configuration of people that we have at our disposal and making sure that they’re capable of delivering what we’re asking them to do. That’s as big a component as anything when you’re managing less than ideal circumstances from a personnel standpoint.”


FS Minkah Fitzpatrick Left knee injury Out this week
FS/SS Damontae Kazee NFL suspension Out for season
SS Keanu Neal Rib injury Out this week
SS Trenton Thompson Neck stinger Questionable this week
FS/NB Elijah Riley High ankle sprain Questionable this week