PITTSBURGH — The Steelers competition for the starting slot cornerback spot is going to be one filled with speculation.
After spending most of his time as a Dime corner over the last three years, Cam Sutton is currently working outside as secondary coach Teryl Austin gets a feel for what he has at the slot cornerback position.
While Sutton may very well kick inside in sub packages by the time the season rolls around, Austin has high hopes for a few young guys the Steelers are trying to evaluate.
Two of those young players are Tre Norwood and Antoine Brooks, Jr. Austin said that both are currently getting reps at slot cornerback as he tries to evaluate there instead of their natural position of safety. For the rookie Norwood, he has made an early impression with Austin.
“I think his draft description of a Swiss Army knife was very apt,” Austin said. “He’s a super-sharp guy. I’m really impressed with how fast he picks things up. Right now, he’s playing a little nickel and a little safety. He handles it really well.”
For Austin, the next step for Norwood will be proving that he can bring the lumber with pads on. It is a concern for Austin thanks to Norwood’s size.
“The big test for him is once we put on pads,” Austin said. “It’s a question of how fast he will move and how he will hold up because he’s not a super big guy. But if he can handle it and hold up the tackling aspect of it, I think he’s got a chance to be a really good player.”
As for Brooks, he’s a second-year player, but played just 29 defensive snaps in 2020. Even still, Austin is hoping with his first full offseason that Brooks can take a step forward and answer the bell.
“Yes, he is an option in the slot,” Austin said. “When he was coming out of Maryland, he was listed as a safety, but played a Nickel-type position. He’s still got a ways to go, but I think the progress is coming.”
Brooks did see defensive reps against Cincinnati and the Washington Football Team. The experience gained from those games is something Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin believes Brooks can build upon.
“His college resume says he has capabilities in that area and we’ve worked him there in the past,” Tomlin said. “He’ll be given an opportunity to continue to grow and develop to display those skills.”
Austin did state that it is certainly possible that Sutton only plays on the outside this season if someone can prove themselves in the slot. It is not unheard of for the Steelers to let someone with little pedigree man the slot. Mike Hilton came on out of nowhere in 2017 with on a futures deal and started Week 1 at the nickel.
So, if Brooks or Norwood can prove themselves, they may be in line for significant playing time.