Porter's talent passed the test in 2022

A few years ago, the Denver Broncos began calling their defense the "No Fly Zone," because they were so difficult to throw the ball against.

For new Steelers cornerback Joey Porter Jr., his 2022 season at Penn State became the "No Try Zone."

In Penn State's season-opening win at Purdue, Porter was targeted 14 times in coverage by the Boilermakers. He broke up six passes, allowed six receptions for 66 yards and recovered a fumble.

It was such a good performance that Porter was rarely tested by Penn State's opponents for the rest of the season, seeing just 16 passes directed at him over the final nine games in which he played.

"That Purdue game was awesome for him because Purdue, who is known to have a prolific pass attack, they are who they are in their pass game," said Penn State associate head coach and cornerbacks back Terry Smith. "Wherever the read tells you to throw the ball, you throw the ball. So, it happened to be Joey quite often. I think Joey had six pass breakups and a fumble recovery in the game. What that game did, it solidified, Joey is what people think he is. Going forward, those other teams were like, 'Nope, we're not going to make that foolish mistake. We don't have to throw to him.'

"It was actually good that he got that action. It was bad for him that he didn't get much action later in the season, but that's what lockdown corners do. They have to be ready for the one ball that's thrown at them and remind people of their reputation and why it is what it is."

Porter wound up allowing just 15 completions on his 30 targets in his final season at Penn State, giving up a paltry 143 yards while breaking up 11 passes.

The low volume of passes thrown his way didn't offer many opportunities for interceptions, so Porter finished his career with the Nittany Lions with just one, a reason some used to knock him when comparing him to other cornerbacks in the 2023 NFL Draft.

As a result, Porter, who was one of just 17 prospects invited to Kansas City for the NFL Draft festivities, did not get to make the trip to the stage on the draft's opening night. Instead, his trip to his introductory press conference came the next day when he and his family drove down to the UPMC Rooney Sports Complex from their home in Pittsburgh's north hills after the Steelers made him the first selection of the second round with the 32nd-overall pick.

It wasn't when Porter wanted to be selected, but it was where he wanted to land.

"I was like, man, it's about time," Porter said. "This is what we all wanted. I'm just happy to be here. I'm ready to go."

But like his father, who of course spent most of his NFL career with the Steelers as an outside linebacker, winning the Super Bowl in 2005, before rejoining the team as an assistant coach from 2014 through 2018, the younger Porter will use his slip out of the first round as a rallying point. He'll use anything as motivation, even the smallest of slights.

Take a look at photos of Pittsburgh Steelers 2nd round pick, CB Joey Porter Jr.

Porter had seen the many mock drafts linking him to the Steelers. And why not, he had grown up in the organization, a constant hanging around at minicamps or training camps or just regular season practices.

Heck, he even spent a lot of time at the home of Mike and Kiya Tomlin as a friend of their sons Dino and Mason.

"When I moved back to Pittsburgh, me and Dino Tomlin and Mason Tomlin were track teammates," Porter said. "We got together and created a close bond. I've been over to their house many times and he was happy about me coming here, but it's business at the end of the day. I'm ready to come in and work."

That was the thing. No matter how great of a story it would be, because of the fluidity of the NFL Draft, there is no guarantee how things will go.

Still, when the Steelers moved up from the 17th pick to the 14th in the first round on the opening night of the draft, making a trade with the Patriots, it got the attention of Porter.

"I thought I was coming home at 14," Porter admitted. "I was like, 'OK, this is the jump.' I heard talks about the Patriots. It was all kind of stuff on the news and in social media about where I was going, where everybody was going. So, when they made that trade, I was like, I could possibly be going home right here. Then they did their pick, and it is what it is."

Porter understands the business aspect of things. The Steelers had moved up to acquire offensive tackle Broderick Jones. The Patriots, another team rumored to be a landing spot, selected Oregon cornerback Christian Gonzalez, instead.

That came after the Seahawks had selected Devon Witherspoon of Illinois fifth overall, and the Washington Commanders took Emmanuel Forbes of Mississippi State at pick 15. The cornerbacks weren't done being taken in the first round, either. The Giants selected Maryland's Deontae Banks with the 24th pick in the first round.

Not only had there been four corners taken before Porter, but two of them came from the Big Ten, where Porter was a first-team all conference selection along with Witherspoon.

You'd better believe Porter now has a chip on his shoulder the size of a boulder.

"Very much so. I expect him to have a chip on his shoulder because he wasn't the first corner taken," Smith said. "It's whatever the reason is, we're going to have a chip no matter what. We're going to have a chip because we weren't the first corner taken. We're going to have a chip because we weren't the first pick."

Like father, like son in that regard.

Joey Porter Sr. was known to use even the smallest perceived slight as motivation. And he played with an edge to his game that helped put the Steelers over the top in 2005 when they defeated the Seattle Seahawks in Super Bowl XL.

The elder Porter was the emotional heart and soul of that team and took a lot of pressure off his teammates in the week leading up to the game by challenging Seattle tight end Jerramy Stephens after Stephens said the Seahawks were going to leave Steelers running back Jerome Bettis "sad," in his trip back to his hometown for the Super Bowl.

Porter called Stephens "soft" and saying the comments had awakened him.

Former Steelers head coach Bill Cowher often utilized Porter's fiery nature as a rallying point for his teams. Porter was asked after his comments about Stephens if Cowher would be upset by them.

"I do what I have to do to get myself going, and he likes to see me going," Porter said at the time. "He knows once I get going, he knows what kind of player he's going to get. That's going to make me play at a high level."

The younger Porter has some of his father's edge to his game, but things are a little different.

"Yes, but different," Smith said of that edge. "You're out on an island and we're not, per se, ripping heads off. We're fundamental technicians. And Joey is a technician at the line of scrimmage. I've not coached a better press corner in my history. His length at the line of scrimmage, his ability to re-route and disrupt timing of routes is unparalleled. And he's ultra-competitive like his dad.

Take a look at Joey Porter Jr.'s first photoshoot as a Pittsburgh Steeler

"This guy wants to do what's necessary to win. This guy wants the challenge of covering the best receiver. He is, in that sense, very much like his dad. He's physical. He can tackle. He's violent when the ball is right there. He brings so much competitiveness, and I'm sure he gets that from his dad."

Porter agrees with that assessment.

He sees himself as a fiery player, but it's more of a controlled aggression.

"I'm laid back, but I can be a rally-the-troops guy on game day," Porter said. "I get excited. I'm trying to win. I'm going to do everything to push my teammates to get that W. They're going to see how I come in and work."

How he works is what attracted Penn State to him in the first place.

The Nittany Lions were interested in the rangy young cornerback as a high school player at North Catholic and then North Allegheny.

But it was a stop their coaching staff made at Latrobe for a Steelers training camp practice in 2018 that made them realize they needed to do whatever necessary to ensure Porter stayed in state and attended Penn State.

"We had a staff retreat in Pittsburgh and we stopped off in late July at Steelers training camp in Latrobe," Smith recalled. "We watched practice and sat in on meetings for a day and we were loading the buses getting ready to head back to State College and we see Joey, because his dad was coaching at that time, starting to do a workout. And he started doing one-on-one repetitions with Antonio Brown.

"We just kind of stopped in our tracks and were like, 'Oh my goodness. This guy is something special.' From there, we knew, we've got to get this guy to Penn State. I think a few weeks later, we got him committed."

That wasn't anything out of the normal for Porter at the time. Once practices were over, he regularly took reps against the team's veteran players or with the cornerbacks.

"I've always been around the Steelers facility since I came back and I just remember me doing one-on-ones with AB and the tight ends at training camp," he said. "That's how I earned my Penn State scholarship. It was amazing. Even here at practice, Joe Haden and the corners, I would see them do drills and they would let me do some, too. It was great."

Soaking all of that information in is one thing. Also having the athletic talent to pull it off is another.

And the 6-foot-2, 198-pound cornerback is blessed with both the ability to understand what he was being shown and then take it to the field.

"He's got a lot of great attributes, size, length, competitive, tough. Really good," said Steelers defensive coordinator Teryl Austin. "Really glad we were able to get him to come in and contribute to our team. We're looking forward to him coming in, competing and having an opportunity to help us win games this year. There's no red shirts, none of that stuff. Hopefully, when he gets here, we'll get right to work."

Given his exposure to many of the things the Steelers ask of their cornerbacks and what he did at Penn State, that's not a stretch. Porter isn't a finished product, but he's an extremely talented and confident player.

"It's the advantage of having a dad that was so talented. And just being around the Steelers organization, you're a sponge to greatness," said Smith. "You're around winning. You're around success. You're around a Pro Bowl dad. You're around a great organization and it just rubs off on you. He brought that to us. We just tried to refine some things. He's such a hard worker and dedicated to being the best version of himself, I'm just excited to see him take these next steps and continue to grow."

What he can turn into is up to him.

But Smith knew early on in Porter's stay at Penn State he had a chance to be special. As it turned out, he's the highest-draft defensive back in Nittany Lions' history.

"His sophomore year. We were playing Wisconsin. It might have been the first or second play of the game. It was the first series, we blitzed him off the edge, and to be honest, he looked like his dad coming off the edge," Smith recalled. "You could see, 'Oh man, we got one.' From there, he just developed. He eliminated one side of the field. We were just blessed to have him. We're appreciative of the Porter family and just super happy for the family."

While he might have been disappointed at just slipping out of the first round, Porter's draft spot also exceeded that of his father, a third-round pick of the Steelers in 1999.

But until he wins a Super Bowl, is named to the All-Decade and All-Pro teams as his father was five times – two on the first team and three on the second – there's going to be work to be done.

There's also little doubt Porter will attack that work.

"Arguably, he's the greatest corner to ever come through Penn State," Smith said. "We're super proud of his development from Day 1. I just saw a picture on our Penn State web site. They posted a picture of when Joey was being recruited to Penn State and then a picture of us on draft night. You see the maturity in him. I'm just proud of who he has developed to be and turned out to be. It's all a testament to who he is and his work ethic and the DNA of who Joey Porter is."