PITTSBURGH -- The moment the Steelers selected Antoine Brooks Jr. in the sixth round of the 2020 NFL Draft, everyone began to wonder how he'd help the defense.
In a position that has one of the league's best (Minkah Fitzpatrick) and one of the team's most questionable (Terrell Edmunds), people want to know how the safety position is going to differ with an added member.
It's not that anyone is looking for Edmunds to be replaced. The 2018 first-round pick is by no means a bust. Last season, he recorded 105 tackles, and in two years on the field has become the team's surest tackler in the secondary.
The idea of Edmunds filling a linebacker-type role would benefit his on-field ability. Still, nothing has been guaranteed, but the Steelers are certainly considering it with the addition of Brooks Jr.
"I think there's a lot of guys in today's game that fit that bill, and it becomes easier and easier to forecast those capabilities because you see them do it on the college field, and as Kevin mentioned, you saw a lot of those things on his Big Ten tape, and so it made it easy to potentially forecast his abilities to do those things," Mike Tomlin said on Brooks Jr. playing both positions. "We're excited about him as a safety. We're excited about him as a sub-package player. We're excited about maybe what he could bring to us as a special teamer, as well. That 220-pound body is a very useful body in today's game for the reasons that we've been talking about."
Tomlin and general manager Kevin Colbert had to emphasize that Brooks Jr. will be playing. safety, but has the capabilities of both.
"He's half a linebacker, he's half a safety," Colbert said. "He will be a safety in our defense with the ability to play in packages because that's what he's done, and he's done well. He's very versatile. He should be able to be a special-teams contributor as we move along."
Defensive backs coach Teryl Austin highlighted Brooks Jr.'s ability to move as well.
"Plays a little bit of everywhere. You will see him play down in the box, out on the slot, you will see him back some," Austin said. "I think the biggest thing I liked about him is he was around the ball. He is going to be there, wherever that ball is, he is going to show up."
Although nothing is guaranteed just yet.
"We will just see how that plays out over the course of the year. But I know this, we don’t have a guy that if he doesn’t fit in one position, we are done," Austin explained. "I think he can do a lot of different things. I am excited about that. We just have to see where he can do it on our level, but I am comfortable with him. We will be able to do multiple things with him."
And obviously, Brooks Jr. will play wherever he can find playing time in the NFL.
"Honestly, they can put me anywhere. I don’t care," he said. "I just want to play football to the best of my ability, but I played nickel, I played in the slot, I played in the box. The box sees an awful lot for a player. I played in the box because I’m aggressive. That’s just my nature. I’m an aggressive tackler. I’m an aggressive player. I like to be in the play. Other than that, I did a lot of blitzing. I did a lot of moving around when I was at Maryland."
Then here's where it gets interesting...
So, maybe the Steelers did go into the draft hoping to find someone who can play both roles. After releasing Barron and adding Brooks Jr., there's a direct line of association between the hybrid role and the two safeties playing beside Fitzpatrick.
Maybe it'll be Edmunds. Maybe Brooks Jr. Or maybe, it can be a little of both.
Either way, expect to see a safety step up and play linebacker this season.
"I don’t know what we’ll do," Austin said. "We’ll get him in, shake him up, and we’ll see where they fit best for us moving forward, but if he’s better back, we know [Edmunds] can play down in the box and he can cover tight ends. If this guy does that better, then we’ll do him down there and let TE stay back or move around. We’ll have to figure all that out once we get everybody together, and I think that’s our job as coaches that we get the best player we can. We know the guy’s a good football player, and then we figure out what positions they’ll help us win games."