Defensive coordinator Teryl Austin wasn't willing to declare that the secondary has rounded into shape as the Steelers initially envisioned with one preseason game remaining, but he acknowledged today it's getting there.
Rookie cornerback Joey Porter Jr.'s professional debut in Saturday night's 27-15 preseason victory over Buffalo had something to do with that assessment.
Porter played one snap with the starting defense as an outside cornerback in the six-defensive backs "Dime" alignment in the first quarter, which allowed veteran cornerback Patrick Peterson to assume an inside position in the sub-package.
Peterson and secondary coach Grady Brown have said it's head coach Mike Tomlin's intention to move Peterson around to various spots in the secondary, as opposed to playing him in an outside role exclusively.
Porter subsequently came up with an interception in the second quarter.
He delivered the type of performance overall Austin and the Steelers want to see from the 32nd-overall selection in last April's draft.
Now, it'll be up to Porter to do it again in the preseason finale on Thursday night in Atlanta.
"That was one small sample size," Austin assessed. "We'll see if he can build on that this week and continue to do that because that's really the key.
"You can't, he goes in and has a good outing and then give it to him. We want to see those things, the good plays and the good things show up repeatedly."
Austin also wants to see more of what he's been getting from cornerback Chandon Sullivan and safety Elijah Riley, who have been battling to become the first option as the slot cornerback in the five-defensive backs "Nickel."
Riley and Sullivan both recorded interceptions against Buffalo, Riley on a pass that was deflected by inside linebacker Cole Holcomb and Sullivan on a ball he wound up tipping to himself.
"I think those guys are both making a case that they belong," Austin maintained. "They've each made some plays. They've each shown improvement, which is what I'm really looking for. They've each shown improvement from game one to game two. We'll see how it plays out here.
"I think it's still a tight competition. It's gonna go down to the wire and we'll see how that shakes out after this week's game."
Austin was more definitive in assessing the depth at outside linebacker behind T.J. Watt and Alex Highsmith.
That's perceived to be better than it was a season ago, Austin confirmed.
"Right now we feel pretty good about our edge depth," he said. "Markus Golden is a proven vet and I like what he's been doing. (Rookie fourth-round pick) Nick (Herbig) is showing it right now in the practice games. We gotta see if he can take that to the regular season, but I feel better about that position.
"I feel that those guys, Alex and T.J., will have somebody to give them a spell, quality work behind them, and will give us some quality play. So I feel a little bit better, actually I feel a lot better about that position."