Steelers going increasingly hybrid on defense, showcasing versatility with secondary
It wasn’t that many years ago the Pittsburgh Steelers had, in effect, only two defensive packages they used the vast majority of the time. Even after a six-DB dime was added to nickel and base, the personnel groupings would remain the same, with the one body swapped in to play a specific, particular position and role.
As the Steelers head to face their nemesis New England Patriots in the season opener Sunday, though, the defense figures to have a much more hybrid and versatile look with interchangeable pieces, particularly in the secondary.
“I try to look at it as X’s and O’s,” defensive back Kameron Kelly said. “There’s not really a specific position because everybody can end up in different spots.”
Kelly is a first-year player who will start his NFL debut, purportedly at free safety – but he figures to perhaps play at a myriad of other places Sunday, including slot corner, strong safety and dime linebacker.
Kelly likely won’t be the only one who bounces around, either. Mike Hilton has taken practice reps at nickel and at safety. Cameron Sutton played almost everywhere at some point during training camp and the preseason.
“We have so many dues who can cover,” veteran cornerback Joe Haden said. “We have a lot of safeties that can cover, we have a lot of corners, just having a nickel, having a dime, having Kam Kelly being able to play nickel, dime and safety … Cam Sutton being able to do the same thing, Mike Hilton being able to do the same thing. Then you’ve got Terrell (Edmunds) who can play safety and nickel. I think it just helps us out so much that everybody can do the positions. It’s not too much on their plate, and it makes us able to give different looks.”
Haden speculated that, for example, when a defense sees Hilton out there, it’ll assume he’s going to be in tight coverage on a slot receiver when in actuality he could be dropping back as a single-high safety.
For players such as Sutton and Kelly, the versatility is their ticket to playing time in what is increasingly a hybrid NFL.
“If you want to stay around in the league, yeah, it’s important,” cornerback Steve Nelson said. “The more you can do.”
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It also could be important against the Patriots, who have traditionally tortured the Steelers via matchups in the passing game. At times, the Steelers have struggled to adjust in-game. The theory goes that schematic adjustments aren’t as necessary when there are so many players who can seamlessly chameleon themselves into different positions from snap-to-snap or on the fly.
“The Patriots are real good with switching up their personnel, putting a different personnel (group) out there but getting you in different looks and making you adjust,” Kelly said. “Now, football is a game of chess, so we are trying to play chess with them too. We are going to try to move people around, just make sure everybody is versatile.”
Chris Adamski is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Chris by email at [email protected] or via Twitter .