PITTSBURGH — Two weeks ago, Trenton Thompson was all about giving the Steelers the best looks he could in practice while running on the card team. Sometimes, that would entail playing star safeties on opposing teams, but that’s where Thompson felt his contributions would lie. Now, with injuries to Keanu Neal and Minkah Fitzpatrick, Thompson is thrust into the spotlight and scheduled to start against the Cleveland Browns.
Thompson says he has ‘been in the iPad’ a lot and is studying everything meticulously. But he doesn’t want to ingest too much information because he thinks examining could lead to him overthinking things. Thompson is calm, and serene, but he is excited and could be seen beaming ear to ear throughout the week as his opportunity arose. This will be his first NFL start, and last week was his first NFL action.
“Once I heard I was getting in (during the final minute Sunday), I was very antsy to get in there and make a play,” Thompson said. “But I wouldn’t say I was nervous or scared; it’s just football. And the same thing for this week, I have an opportunity to actually start. I just tell myself, ‘It’s football.’ It doesn’t really matter what it is, starter or just getting thrown into the mix, I think I will be all right.”
The Steelers inserted Thompson into the lineup with plenty of confidence in him. Thompson joined the Steelers in training camp after several injuries at the safety position and got plenty of playing time throughout camp and the preseason. His playmaking ability jumped out to the coaching staff in the preseason after he caught an interception against the Buccaneers. That and his relentless work ethic were key reasons in keeping him around on the practice squad.
“I think we like Trent. We thought when we got Trent, it was in camp,” defensive coordinator Teryl Austin said. “He came in and was tough, good tackler, showed some ballawareness, ball skill. Those are the things you like. But again, until you see him in a real game situation like last week he kind of got thrown in and all of a sudden we’ve got Trent in the game, we’ve got Eli in the game, we’ve got a bunch of guys in the game that maybe you’re not used to seeing, so until we get more of a body of work, then we’ll feel more comfortable with him. But we like his initial skill set and the things we saw.”
Sources of Comfort
There are three San Diego State Aztecs in the Steelers locker room. Thompson is one of them. While he was a freshman, Damontae Kazee was a senior who often ignored Thompson in a big brotherly way. But there is one source of comfort that made Thompson’s transition to Pittsburgh easier: fellow practice squad cornerback Luq Barcoo. Barcoo and Thompson were roommates while at San Diego State. Now, in Pittsburgh, they just so happen to be roommates yet again.
Thompson has a crafted image of himself as a football player. But his roommate knows him better than anyone. But what does Thompson think of himself as an emotional football player?
“I consider myself a person who thinks a lot, so I won’t cluster or flutter myself with too much,” Thompson said. “Whatever I see or whatever sticks with me is what I will go with. I won’t go back and try to find something new, or put something in my toolbox in this game to help me out, because then I will be out there thinking too much and I won’t be to play like a football player.”
But take Barcoo’s word for it on how excited and jumpy Thompson can get on the inside. He played in the same secondary as him for years and sees him every day for hours. In other words, no one in the Steelers locker room knows Thompson better than Barcoo.
“He’s been locked in, he was last night, and he is watching a ton of film,” Barcoo said. “He’s a guy, I wouldn’t say nervous, but he gets antsy. I just want to say excited, but he’s really excited about the opportunity. That’s a guy who always tries to do his best, watch film, and he’s excited. I think he’ll be okay.”
Between Barcoo’s scouting report of his best friend and Thompson’s scouting report of himself, three things stick out about Thompson’s game. Sure tackling, a wicked hit stick, and the hunt for a big play. Those are the three things that Thompson prides himself on in the NFL, and it is what has got him this far.
“He loves to come down and lay a big hit, but he’s a sure tackler, too,” Barcoo said. “You can tell, he’s just hungry for an opportunity. I can tell you, since he’s been in the league, he’s gotten a lot better in coverage.”
Patrick Peterson said that Thompson has a ‘knack for the football’ every time he goes on the field. Keanu Neal and Elijah Riley praised Thompson’s professionalism and desire to ask questions relentlessly. Those are promising signs. Nothing will be decided until Thompson shows what he can do on the field, but he is ready to go. And while the feeling of antsiness washes over him, the dominant emotion is confidence.
“I’ve always been a confident football player,” Thompson said. “Even though I’ve never had real defensive snaps, I’m just gonna keep saying, ‘It’s football, man.’ You can’t overthink it.”
Thompson thinks very little besides baseline attributes can be drawn from his preseason tape. He is right. But he gets to face the Browns in a physical AFC North matchup. Pittsburgh hopes Thompson can make plays and reward their faith in him to get the start.