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'He looks good when he's freed up'

One of the things safety Damontae Kazee had provided the Steelers was options in the secondary.

They'll still have those, defensive coordinator Teryl Austin maintained, even if Kazee is temporarily no longer one of them.

"We're going to do what we have to do," Austin announced.

Kazee suffered a wrist injury in the preseason finale against the Lions that landed him on the Reserve/Injured list after the roster reduction to 53.

He has to miss at least four games, but the ways in which the Steelers had been incorporating an extra safety into sub-packages, as opposed to a third cornerback, aren't necessarily being put on hold.

"We know it's a next man up principle here," Austin continued. "And so, we'll find somebody else to fill that job. However, we do it. It might be with another safety. It might be with another body, a corner. I don't know how we'll do it, but we'll fill that role, and we'll fill that stuff we need to get done with someone else."

The Lions game offered a glimpse at the direction in which the Steelers had been heading.

The first snaps in the five-defensive backs "nickel" package included cornerbacks Ahkello Witherspoon and Levi Wallace playing outside and Cam Sutton moving from outside into the slot.

But the Steelers quickly opted for a different nickel sub-package early in the Lions' first possession,

This one featured Kazee lining up at free safety, strong safety Terrell Edmunds at the line of scrimmage and free safety Minkah Fitzpatrick walking up to where a linebacker would normally be deployed.

Fitzpatrick found an unblocked path to running back Jermar Jefferson on a second-and-5 carry from the Lions' 49-yard line.

Defensive linemen Larry Ogunjobi and Cam Heyward beat Fitzpatrick to the tackle, but what can happen when Fitzpatrick is put in a position to seek out the ball rather than line up as a deep centerfielder was nonetheless apparent.

"It wasn't a desire to get Minkah to ball-hunt," Austin explained. "It was a desire to get a really good football player on the field. I think Kazee is a good football player. And that's really what it was, to try to get your best players and put them in position to make some good plays. "Obviously, the added bonus of that was it freed Minkah up a little bit more."

The Steelers aren't opposed to that.

"He looks good when he's freed up," Austin confirmed.

Kazee is a veteran of 69 NFL games and 49 NFL starts and was on the way to establishing himself as a versatile player who could be trusted in a variety of roles.

The Steelers have more of those, cornerback Arthur Maulet contended.

"We have plenty of DBs that play multiple positions," he said. "We have a lot of vets. We can scramble around and get it done."

The more they can do, in theory, the more Fitzpatrick might be able to do.

"If we can get him out of center field sometimes and get down and blitz and make plays, then we need to do that," Maulet said. "He does a great job at both."

That's one of the reasons why the Steelers won't rely on just a standard "nickel" or six-defensive backs "dime," even with Kazee unavailable at the outset of the season.

They intend to kept opponents guessing.

"We're gonna have a lot of little different packages for people, trust me," Maulet said.