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New Name Emerges in Steelers CB Competition

The Pittsburgh Steelers have a sleeper at the nickelback role who's starting to impress.

PITTSBURGH -- The Pittsburgh Steelers have a new name in the mix for their slot cornerback/nickelback position, as Elijah Riley has made a few plays after changing focus from safety.

Riley signed with the Steelers last season, playing four games off the practice squad before being signed to the active roster. He primarily played safety, filling in on special teams and recording five tackles in 20 snaps on defense in 2022. 

This summer, he's made the move down to the slot. 

"Nickel has been my priority this offseason," Riley told All Steelers. "Obviously, I want to know all the positions in the secondary. Be a utility guy wherever they need me. But it's something I've been honing in on, detailing, and really taking the time to try and step into a role where hopefully they expect me to take on."

Riley joins the competition with free agent signing Chandon Sullivan and fellow practice squad member Duke Dawson. Sullivan entered camped as the favorite to win the job, but the Steelers are opened minded about finding the best fit within the three. 

"We've got some good guys in the position," Riley said. "We've got [Chandon Sullivan], we've got [Duke Dawson]. Two really good ball players. It's nice to, you know, iron sharpens iron, get to compete with them. Take away from what they're doing, try to apply it to my skillset, and see what works for me."

What could give Riley the upper-hand this summer is his ability to blitz off the edge. A former chess piece in college, Riley brought those talents to the NFL but didn't get to showcase too much last season playing primarily safety when he came to Pittsburgh. 

In the team's final day of OTAs, he had a headturner as he slid past the tackle to find himself almost untouched in the backfield.

"I was having some fun with that nickel blitz," he laughed. 

"[Blitzing is] new to me in the system, but back in college, I was big off the edge blitz. I pride myself on it," Riley continued. "I think blitzing is something I do well, and it's great being here in the system where we do get the opportunity to blitz off the edge often as a nickel."

With minicamp, training camp and three preseason games ahead of him, Riley is looking to make year two in Pittsburgh a good one. He might be a sleeper to win the nickel job for the Steelers, but he hasn't been quiet about his abilities in the role. 

And with a clear view at where his opportunity is this season, he's ready for the challenge. 

"It's nice," Riley said about being with the Steelers for a second year. "Being able to detail things a little better. Being able to ask questions that you really can't ask in-season. Doing the best I can to learn everything within the system and detail things to the best of my ability."

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