The Pittsburgh Steelers’ preliminary 53-man roster for the 2023 season sees them retain 10 defensive backs, with nearly all of those who made it, barring three outside cornerbacks, possessing position flexibility of some significance. After losing their top slot options in recent years, they will have an array of possibilities this year that they can explore at will. They stockpiled options, some of which came and went, such as Duke Dawson and former draft pick Tre Norwood, but they have settled on a large group of candidates. Let’s run down the list before the Steelers shake it up on us.
Editor’s note: This was written before reports surfaced that the Steelers are signing veteran DB Desmond King.
If Joey Porter Jr. is going to play a lot this year, then it’s probably going to have to come with Peterson seeing a good deal of time in the slot. Otherwise, outside of injury, it would have to involve Peterson or Levi Wallace taking a backseat.
The Steelers were a bit cautious with how much they showed to the public of Peterson working in the slot during training camp and the preseason, but surely worked on it more in closed-practice settings. We’ll have a better idea of how they intend to sort this out when the San Francisco 49ers roll into town.
Added after the draft following Arthur Maulet’s request for release, Sullivan is the most natural veteran slot cornerback on the roster. He had a solid preseason and is likely to see the most snaps there if Peterson isn’t manning the position, but he is one of many options.
Though listed as a safety, Riley was an outside cornerback for the Army Black Knights. He moved to safety when he got to the NFL, with some limited slot work. He did a little bit of everything in his brief playing time for Pittsburgh last year but saw virtually all of his work this offseason come in the slot. Special teams contributed to his making the roster, but the coaches also liked what they saw from him in this spot.
A very experienced veteran free safety, Kazee is going to see action this year in some sort of rotation with Keanu Neal at the strong safety spot. They will also share the field in three-safety packages, which will probably encompass both nickel and dime groupings. In such scenarios, Kazee is the most likely slot defender, but all three of their top safeties can and perhaps will share the load.
Considered more of a box defender, Neal could see work in the slot particularly in short-yardage scenarios and other situations in which the defense wants five defensive backs on the field while still protecting against the run. That’s why they coveted Mike Hilton so much. They could run nickel looks in passing situations and still hold up against the run.
Yes, he is their All-Pro free safety, but part of Fitzpatrick’s value is his ability to line up everywhere. Especially given the lack of unimpeachable stability in the slot right now and the expectations of serious three-safety work, we should expect him to get his share of work in the slot as well. He logged over 100 snaps there in 2022 and in each of the past three seasons.