PHOENIX — The Pittsburgh Steelers re-signed Damontae Kazee and let Terrell Edmunds leave in free agency, but head coach Mike Tomlin said Monday at the NFL Annual Meeting that he’s not done making moves at that position group.
Edmunds has been the team’s starter at strong safety since 2018, but in 2022, the Steelers brought in Kazee to give them a different type of safety to be able to play alongside All-Pro free safety Minkah Fitzpatrick.
While Edmunds was an in-the-box run defense and tight end coverage specialist, Kazee is more of a general coverage safety and more-suited to the way the rest of the NFL is looking at the position these days.
“He’s got ball production,” Tomlin said. “He brings an energy and enthusiasm that’s infectious and that’s good for teams, not only in stadiums, but day to day. He has a Steelers spirit that we value.”
While the Steelers made Kazee a priority, not only singing him early in free agency but to a two-year contract, Tomlin did say that the team isn’t done looking at other options at the position.
“The free agency process is still ongoing and our draft prep is going well,” Tomlin said. “We’re going to add to that bunch, certainly. By what means is to be determined, but there’s some credible candidates out there in both pools.”
Tomlin said that Kazee can play the strong safety position, but said that terminology is a bit dated. With two-high safeties becoming the more prevalent coverage around the league, that is true for a lot of teams, but it hasn’t been for the Steelers, who have traditionally played more single-high safety.
“Strong and free are kind of misnomers these days,” Tomlin said. “Most guys play right and left, and those that don’t are somewhat interchangeable based on schematics or calls. I just think that’s what we are. Minkah patrols the middle of the field as a home base and we work off that.”
When the Steelers want to play half-field safeties, they can use Kazee for that role. Tomlin said that cornerback Patrick Peterson, who excelled played in zone coverage as an outside cornerback in Minnesota last year, could also be an option for that role.
“He’s versatile, he is, not only in terms of his talents but his intellect, and we’re not going to be bashful about moving him around,” Tomlin said. “He and I have already had that discussion. I think he’s really excited about the prospects of that.”
The biggest challenge for the Steelers at the position will not just be finding players that are athletically capable of filling the role they’re being asked to fill, but also playing with the level of intelligence and versatility to be able to move Fitzpatrick around the defense. That’s the big thing that Edmunds brought to the table that will need replaced after his signing in Philadelphia.
“It’s our job to put [Fitzpatrick] into positions to be impactful, to wreak havoc, to do the things that he’s blessed to have the talents to do,” Tomlin said. “He’s a smart guy. Those that work with him are versatile, and so it allows us an opportunity to do those things. I can’t imagine that decreasing.”
The other thing that Edmunds brought to the table that will be sorely missed was his reliable availability. Edmunds missed just two games due to injury over his five seasons in Pittsburgh.