PITTSBURGH — The Pittsburgh Steelers have done a ton of work revamping their defense since the end of the 2022 season, and they seem to have filled most of the holes that emerged in their rotations via player departures.
But the one that hasn’t had an obvious answer is at slot cornerback, where Cam Sutton and Art Maulet split time in 2022. Sutton was the team’s No. 1 outside cornerback, but moved into the slot on obvious passing downs. Maulet was more of a run-down player in the slot, playing there mostly on first and second downs.
Sutton left for the Detroit Lions in free agency, and Maulet was released just before the start of OTAs, scratching both of the 2022 options from this season’s plans.
The Steelers got one player back into that mix, signing free agent Chandon Sullivan during the draft as a replacement for Maulet.
But that pass-down slot player that Sutton had been seemed like role unfilled as the team entered OTAs. It turns out, that might not be the case.
Patrick Peterson, signed to be the team’s No. 1 outside cornerback as a free agent, has also been working a bit in the slot during OTAs.
“I’ve moved around a little bit throughout practice,” Peterson said. “So we dibble and dab with the idea. I’m loving it so far, but we’re just going to see so far how coach wants to take it.”
According to Pro Football Focus, Peterson has taken 790 career snaps in the slot, compared to 10,668 outside. But he said he feels the job inside is a little bit easier than it is outside for him right now.
“Honestly, to me, I feel like the inside guy is the most protected,” Peterson said. “Because you’re closer to the linebacker, you’ve got a middle field safety. So you’re basically just playing to your leverage and funneling the receiver to where you’re not covering.
“For the most part, just understand where your help is. So for me, it gives me the ability to play even slower than on the outside because, when you’re on the outside, it’s you, the numbers and the receiver.
“I’ve done that, for the most part of my career. Now, moving around and moving on the inside is just helping me play a little bit slower. I understand the game. I understand coverages. I understand schemes. Now, we’re just all about putting me there to see how successful I am.”
The experiment will be a two-fold one. For Peterson to play in the slot, not only will he have to take quickly to a position that he’s rarely played throughout his NFL career, the Steelers will also have to feel comfortable with one of his backups at outside corner stepping up.
That group includes second-round pick Joey Porter Jr., who took some first-team reps on Thursday, seventh-round pick Cory Trice, XFL vet Luq Barcoo and returning backup James Pierre.