PITTSBURGH — Pittsburgh Steelers cornerback Patrick Peterson was happy to help out and make the move to free safety when the team’s depth at that position evaporated in a flash against the Indianapolis Colts on Saturday.
Starting strong safety and backup free safety Damontae Kazee was ejected on one second-quarter play. Starting free safety and All-Pro Minkah Fitzpatrick was lost to a knee injury on the next play.
Strong safety Keanu Neal and versatile backup Elijah Riley were both on the injured reserve list. Peterson was the next man up.
“I’m a guy that’s always willing to learn and do whatever is possible to help the team win,” he said.
It looks like he is still the next man up. Kazee has been suspended for the rest of the season. Fitzpatrick is out at least this week. Trenton Thompson, who replaced Kazee, did not practice on Tuesday while dealing with a stinger he suffered in the game. That left veteran practice squad defender Eric Rowe and Peterson as the starting safeties in practice on Tuesday.
“As you guys know, we’re a little thin right now at the safety position,” Peterson said. “We’ll see what the day brings [Wednesday] with Trenton. We’ll see if he’s going to be in the lineup. We expect to have him. … [Rowe] has experience. So we’re going to lean on that experience, for sure, to try to get us through this game.”
Rowe is in his ninth professional season, and has played a whole lot more safety than Peterson has, so even though he’s two years older and has eight Pro Bowls under his belt, he’s the student, not the teacher, in this setting.
“That was my first time getting some real quality safety reps last week again the Colts. It felt pretty good,” Peterson said. “I said last week post-game that Coach Grady [Brown] and Coach Tomlin did a great job of putting me in position throughout OTAs, minicamp, training camp so that if this opportunity did present itself, I wouldn’t be running around like a chicken with my head cut off. I feel pretty comfortable. The visual is a little bit different. Just the more reps I get, the more comfortable that I get.”
That’s all well and good for the present. But what about the future. Peterson is in his 13th NFL season. He has one year left on his contract with the Steelers. He was supplanted at one outside cornerback spot by rookie Joey Porter Jr. this year. It’s probably only because of the serious downturn in the play of fellow outside corner Levi Wallace that Peterson hasn’t been moved off that spot altogether.
But safety is a position that players can play a little bit longer. Rod Woodson made the move to safety late in his career, with the Baltimore Ravens. He ended up playing 17 seasons. Is something like that in the cards for Peterson?
“The older that I did get, if I wanted to play this game for much longer than I planned on playing, I did feel that move was going to be necessary,” Peterson said. “I feel like it’s a great move for me at this state of my career. We’ve got some really, really good corners on this roster that I feel can really feel can be the cornerstone of this team here in the future. This might be my second career.”
Peterson said he always wanted to play for 15 seasons. That would be two more after this one. But it seems that he’s been rejuvenated by his time in Pittsburgh, and he might be making a run at more if the move to safety works out.
Nick Farabaugh provided reporting from Pittsburgh.