PITTSBURGH — New cornerback Desmond King made his Pittsburgh Steelers debut on Sunday night, but you probably had to be looking closely to notice number 25 in black and gold during the broadcast.
King played just seven total snaps in the game. All of them came on special teams. Four of them were as a kickoff returner, watching a Las Vegas Raiders kickoff sail into the end zone without a return.
It hasn’t exactly been a big job for the former Houston Texans starter since coming to Pittsburgh. King started 25 games between the 2021 and 2022 seasons in Houston, and seemed poised to start again before his unexpected release before the start of the 2023 season.
There had been hopes when the Steelers quickly snapped him up that King may be able to make an impact in a particularly soft slot cornerback area of the Steelers’ defense. The Steelers have been playing a combination of safety Minkah Fitzpatrick, Chandon Sullivan and outside cornerback Patrick Peterson at the position.
Sometimes, moving a player like Fitzpatrick or Peterson to the slot could present a matchup advantage for the Steelers, but other times, having a lock-down slot cover man available would seem more ideal.
So why has King yet to play a defensive snap three games into the season? Defensive coordinator Teryl Austin said on Thursday that it has been about getting him familiar with the minute details of the defense, which is significantly different than the scheme he played in while with the Texans in 2021 and 2022, and the one new Texans head coach DeMeco Ryans was installing this offseason.
“I think Des is working,” Austin said. “When you come from another system, there’s certain things and details that you have to get used to that may be different from where you came from. That’s really the biggest thing with him. I think he’s smart. I think he’s tough. He had a hat last week, so we’re hopefully accelerating him, keeping him going, and at some point, we’ll see him on the field.”
The Steelers dressed an extra defensive back by activating King for his kickoff return ability on Sunday. With wide receiver and kick returner Gunner Olszewski back from the concussion protocol, it’s unclear if the Steelers will find a way to dress him against his former team this Sunday.