By Jeremy Hritz
Safety is currently a position of strength at the starting spots for the Pittsburgh Steelers, with both playmaking ability and experience. However, like several other positions on the team, beyond the first-string talent, the depth is young and unproven. Should there be an injury and the safety depth be tested, the team will find themselves in a precarious position on the backend, especially since the defense’s most splash-capable player champions the free safety position. Training camp will be critical at safety for the young depth to progress and demonstrate they have what it takes to spell the starters and provide an effective makeshift in the event of an injury.
The starter at free safety, Minkah Fitzpatrick, is arguably the best defensive player on the team. Fitzpatrick enters his 3rd season with the team, 4th in the NFL, and he is established as the heartbeat of the secondary. Fitzpatrick has unique field vision and natural instincts to read the play, and this has resulted in multiple splash plays in his tenure with the Steelers. While 2020 was not as big-play adorned as his 2019 season, he was still the best defender in the secondary, and a primary reason, maybe the reason, the defense is in the conversation to be one of the league’s best.
At strong safety, Terrell Edmunds returns for his 4th season, and while he has not lived up to his first-round pedigree, he has been solid, though susceptible to the big play at times. Edmunds occasionally looks out of position and a step behind receivers, yet he does make up for that in his ability to support the run. Edmunds 5th year option was not picked up, and as a potential free agent in 2022, he has the extra incentive to make a statement for a lucrative contract with the Steelers or somewhere else in the league.
I Guess He’s Next Man Up???
Antoine Brooks, Jr., second year player out of Maryland, will be the next man up at strong safety, in addition to being a slot corner, competing to take over the role vacated by Mike Hilton. Physical and built to play near the line of scrimmage, he will more than likely be called upon to step in for Edmunds should he be hurt. In 2020, Brooks played in 4 games and showed perseverance after being cut after training camp, and that experience should benefit him this season.
Miles Kilebrew is listed on the roster as an LB but he has also played safety. Regardless, his true value to the Steelers is as a special teamer. If he does get snaps and provide depth at safety, it will be as a strong, as this is where his career snaps have come from.
In terms of free safety depth, things are a bit more murky, and training camp will be needed to sort out the details, but as it stands today, the battle for the backup spot will be between recently signed free agent Arthur Maulet and rookie Tre Norwood.
Maulet was a versatile player with the Jets, playing a variety of positions, increasing his value to the Steelers, as he has played outside corner, free and strong safety, in addition to dime backer and special teams. While not extraordinarily effective with the Jets, his experience and position fluidity was attractive to the Steelers, hence the signing.
Norwood, like Maulet, is versatile, but lacks the NFL experience. Projected as a sub-package corner coming out of the draft, the Steelers will assuredly evaluate him as a slot CB, but more than likely, he will also get reps at free safety. Norwood’s ball skills make him an intriguing prospect at free safety.
Whether or not they keep both Maulet and Norwood, or Norwood heads to the practice squad, remains to be seen, but it is a battle worth monitoring in the coming months.
Can the UDRFAs Make a Legit Push?
Finally, two rookie undrafted free agents, Lamont Wade and Donovan Stiner, are underdogs to make the roster for free safety depth, but they both offer unique skill sets and playmaking ability that make them attractive enough to receive a camp invite.
The Steelers need the backend of the safety depth to emerge this July to provide for insurance in the event of an injury, and the competition will be thick. A nice mix of hungry guys and veteran journeymen will make for an engaging battle for the backup spots.