There Are Very Good Reasons The Steelers Are Collecting Cornerbacks

We’ll begin to find out next week if they’ve come up with somebody better or merely somebody else.
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The Steelers haven’t quite managed to corner the market on cornerbacks this offseason, but it hasn’t been for a lack of effort.

They addressed corner at the outset of free agency when they signed Patrick Peterson.

And again in the draft, when they selected Joey Porter Jr. 32nd overall and Corey Trice Jr. in the seventh round.

The housecleaning at the position continued this week, when they released Ahkello Witherspoon, once thought to be the possible successor to Joe Haden, and signed Luq Barcoo, who most recently was playing for the XFL’s San Antonio Brahmas.

Already, the Steelers are a more intimidating team on the back end of the defense.

It remains to be seen if they’ll be a better one.

“One thing I’ll say is we’ll look good getting off the bus this year,” secondary coach Grady Brown joked.

He was referencing the prototypical NFL size for the position acquired through the selections of Porter, 6-foot-2, 193 pounds, and Trice, 6-3, 206.

Peterson’s potential Hall-of-Fame resume might also contribute to any pregame intimidation the Steelers are able to muster.

Eventually, they’re going to have to be able to run and cover.

Their efforts to be better in those areas began and continue with guys who weren’t part of the problem.

We’ll find out eventually if any of them are part of the solution.

The 2022 season ended on Jan. 8, with Cam Sutton and Levi Wallace starting outside, Arthur Maulet lining up at slot cornerback and James Pierre playing special teams and 44 snaps at cornerback in sub-packages against Cleveland.

Sutton left via free agency.

Maulet was released.

And now Witherspoon, who was on the reserve/injured list when the season ended, is gone, as well.

The plan at cornerback this offseason, it’s apparent by now, has been “somebody else.”

The reconfiguration at the position has included an accomplished and decorated but aging veteran who isn’t what he once was in Peterson, a player of great potential who cost a great deal in draft capital in Porter, and some others whose most promising attribute might be they didn’t drop any interceptions or get beat deep repeatedly for the Steelers last season.

“I really loved the way our guys competed last year,” defensive coordinator Teryl Austin politically observed while the Steelers were in the process of investing two of their first six selections in cornerbacks.

But …

“We were probably in the bottom five in terms of big plays (surrendered),” Austin added.

You can’t be that and be an elite defense.

Which is why the Steelers have been so thorough in acquiring as many cornerbacks as they can get in the hopes of finding a few good men.

Porter is the headliner.

The powers that be were non-committal when asked how quickly first-round offensive tackle Broderick Jones might become a starter.

But no such breaks were pumped when similar inquiries were made about Porter.

“There are no redshirts,” Austin announced. “He is going to have every opportunity.”

Peterson, likewise, will have a role, most likely as the new nickel or as a rover whose main responsibility will be to find and get the football.

The rest will be sorted out starting next Tuesday, when Organized Team Activities commence.

That process won’t be as sexy as trying to gauge the maturation of quarterback Kenny Pickett or the evolution of an offense that too often was conservative to a fault a season ago.

But it’ll be every bit as critical to the Steelers taking the next step while trying to contend again.

The Steelers have known that all along.

More importantly, they’ve responded accordingly.

Categories: Mike Prisuta’s Sports Section