There’s a method to the position flexibility the Steelers have been exploring this preseason, in the secondary and beyond.
“They have to be able to play all of them,” defensive coordinator Keith Butler said of his defensive backs. “If they don’t, people will label us. And if they label us at certain positions, it’s easier for the quarterbacks to read.
“Plus, the versatility of your defense, you have to have enough people, because of injuries and stuff like that, who can play different positions. If you don’t and somebody gets injured, it screws up the whole thing.”
The most versatile of the bunch has been Cam Sutton, who has worked as an outside cornerback in the four-defensive backs “base,” as a slot cornerback in the five-defensive backs “nickel” and as a linebacker-safety hybrid in the six-defensive backs “dime.”
“Nickel” cornerback Mike Hilton has also been playing safety.
And against Kansas City, first-year safety candidate Kameron Kelly was deployed in a three-safety “nickel” _ as opposed to the three-cornerback “nickel” that normally includes Hilton _ and as a safety in a “dime” package that featured Sean Davis playing the linebacker-safety hybrid Sutton has been handling.
The defensive backs maintain it’s nothing they can’t handle.
“Not at all,” Hilton said. ”We ask each other questions. We pay attention to what each other does.
“We’re confident in where guys can play. Everybody’s versatile, so it just makes us a better defense.”
When Davis was unavailable due to injury, Kelly had previously been getting a lot of snaps at safety with the first-team defense.
He isn’t complaining, either
He’s trying to make the team in any capacity, and is wide open to any and all opportunities to do so.
“I’m just trying to make the most out of them,” he said. “I’m just trying to do what I can.
“Wherever they line me up I’m just trying to go out there and play as hard as I can.”
Added starting cornerback Steve Nelson: “We have a lot of guys that are very versatile, can play different positions. That’s good, to have guys to be able to move around. You never know, guys go down and you kind of need guys to plug-and-play, and we definitely have that.”
Similar experimentation has been taking place along the offensive line, with candidates for backup positions such as tackle Zach Banner and guard Fred Johnson working one side of the front one week and the opposite side the next.
“Position flexibility has to be an element of this thing, particularly when you’re talking about adding quality depth,” head coach Mike Tomlin said. “You can turn 53 men into 60 if you have good position flexibility and that’s what we strive to have.”