PITTSBURGH — As a protect backmost during his playing days and secondary coach earlier successful his coaching career, it was only earthy for Pittsburgh Steelers protect coordinator Teryl Austin to build his portion astir nan secondary.
For nan past 2 seasons, nan Steelers person leaned heavy upon a three-safety package that allows Pittsburgh to lucifer up against tight ends and provides capable protect backs to create unsocial disguised converges.
But during Saturday’s nonaccomplishment to nan Indianapolis Colts, nan position group that makes truthful galore of nan concepts imaginable was thrown an unexpected curveball. Late successful nan first half, Damontae Kazee was ejected for a deed connected a defenseless receiver. One play later, Minkah Fitzpatrick went down pinch a knee injury. With nan 3rd starting safety, Keanu Neal, already connected injured reserve, each 3 of nan starting safeties were abruptly out.
Enter Patrick Peterson.
The 13-year seasoned made a sanction for himself successful this league, and perchance solidified his lawsuit for nan Hall of Fame, acknowledgment to his expertise to fastener down receivers one-on-one connected nan outside. In his first twelvemonth successful Pittsburgh, nan Steelers already gave him an opportunity to beryllium a “football player” by utilizing him successful nan nickel and sometimes astatine information successful immoderate of their sub packages. Now, that process is successful nan adjacent shape of its evolution.
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“When we talked to Pat successful nan offseason astir bringing him here, that was 1 of nan things that was exciting,” Austin said. “He was excited astir nan opportunity to do immoderate different things. He played a small spot of information successful immoderate of our dime packages. So we had those utmost circumstances here. It was only earthy to move him there.”
As nan Steelers hole for nan matchup Saturday pinch nan Cincinnati Bengals, that break-in-case-of-emergency solution could move into a longer-term fix.
On Wednesday night, nan NFL upheld nan suspension that will support Kazee sidelined for nan last 3 regular-season games. (He’s eligible to return for nan playoffs connected nan disconnected chance nan Steelers make it.) Fitzpatrick has been ruled retired for Saturday, and coach Mike Tomlin said he’s unsure if nan All-Pro information will beryllium retired moreover longer. The Steelers besides ruled retired fourth-string information Trenton Thompson pinch a cervix injury.
This week astatine practice, that’s meant a full-time move to information for Peterson. He’s played successful nan heavy mediate and successful nan container successful each of nan Steelers’ packages, including nan guidelines defense, nickel and dime. Eric Rowe, who was released from nan Carolina Panthers believe squad Sept. 19 and signed to nan Steelers’ believe squad Nov. 20, is bracing to commencement alongside Peterson. Elijah Riley, who is moving his measurement backmost from a high-ankle sprain, is questionable and could besides beryllium successful that conversation.
“I’m excited to yet get my first crippled starting arsenic a safety,” Peterson said. “It’s very, very intriguing to maine because that’s thing that I’ve ever wanted to do, to beryllium much progressive successful nan crippled and not beryllium conscionable a cornerback.”
Though nan Steelers person mostly been successful helmets and jerseys during believe this week, Peterson is preparing for nan physicality of Saturday by wearing enarthrosis pads, too.
“It was funny to spot him successful nan enarthrosis pads this week, but that’s conscionable nan mentality that he has,” T.J. Watt said. “We’re gonna request him to make immoderate large plays for us. I’m excited to spot him successful nan box.”
Early successful Peterson’s career, he was truthful bully astatine shutting down apical receivers that protect coordinators would put him connected nan champion wideout and support him location successful man sum nan full game. His first foray into his caller position came during training camp, erstwhile each 3 of nan superior safeties were retired for various reasons.
So what’s nan difference?
“For nan astir part, it’s not really learning thing new,” Peterson said. “Even early connected successful my career, I wanted to understand and cognize what everybody’s doing connected nan field, truthful we could beryllium that overmuch amended of a group. But nan only quality is conscionable nan visual. Versus being successful beforehand of a feline and now I person an opportunity to spot each 21 men successful beforehand of me.”
Patrick Peterson has 35 profession interceptions, including 1 this play successful Pittsburgh. He’s defended 10 passes this season. (Philip G. Pavely / USA Today)
Austin said Wednesday that he still sees Peterson arsenic a area and nickel pinch nan Steelers. However, depending really nan Steelers’ wounded business evolves, Peterson whitethorn request to capable nan void astatine information for nan long of this play — aliases astatine slightest beryllium 1 portion of nan solution.
But what’s possibly much absorbing to see is what nan position alteration could mean for Peterson agelong term. There’s a agelong database of protect backs who began astatine area earlier transitioning to information arsenic a measurement to widen their career. Former Steeler Rod Woodson is 1 of nan astir celebrated examples that Pittsburghers remember. But he’s not nan only one. Charles Woodson, Aeneas Williams and Ronnie Lott besides made a akin transition.
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“I deliberation that is thing that a batch of those guys do because they are a bully shot players. They’re smart shot players and truthful they tin modulation from extracurricular to inside,” Austin said. “You spot nan crippled otherwise wrong and outside. Some guys, that’s a difficult switch. But for a feline for illustration Pat, those guys tin make it because they are really bully shot players, etc. They spot nan large picture.”
Peterson said that early successful his career, he ne'er thought astir safety. However, arsenic he’s grown successful nan game, that reasoning has changed.
“Seeing nan measurement nan crippled is going, seeing really offenses are scheming receivers unfastened a small spot amended now, I deliberation it will springiness maine an opportunity to prolong my career,” Peterson said. “Because now I’m not successful beforehand of a receiver having to defender him from 1 sideline to nan different sideline. So it takes a batch of accent disconnected my body, for sure.
“My number was ever 15 (seasons). I’m astatine 13 correct now. Next twelvemonth will beryllium 14. But if that’s thing that tin thief maine get that number, I’m each successful for it.”
(Top photo: Brandon Sloter / Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)
“The Football 100,” nan definitive ranking of nan NFL’s champion 100 players of each clip is connected waste now. Order it here.