Steelers razor-thin depth gets even thinner following preseason finale

Detroit Lions running back Justin Jackson (42) leaps over Pittsburgh Steelers. Mandatory Credit: Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports
Detroit Lions running back Justin Jackson (42) leaps over Pittsburgh Steelers. Mandatory Credit: Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports /

The Pittsburgh Steelers lost another safety to injured reserve during the preseason. Here’s how a strength has quickly become a major area of concern. 

For the most part, Mike Tomlin got the results he was hoping for in Pittsburgh’s preseason finale against the Detroit Lions. To make sure the Steelers were well prepared, he got the pleasure of watching his starting defense beat up on the Lions’ backup quarterbacks, and it had to give him another boost of confidence when both Mitch Trubisky and Kenny Pickett had yet another promising performance.

Many questioned Tomlin’s aggressiveness in the final preseason game. Though plenty of head coaches around the league elect to rest their starters for the third game, Tomlin did the opposite as he played his top players for an entire half. We had a few scares when Diontae Johnson and T.J. Watt left the game with minor injuries, but both should be fine to start the season.

Sadly, one injury they suffered did prove to be severe. Veteran safety, Damontae Kazee, suffered a serious wrist/arm injury against the Lions that will require surgery to repair and he will be placed on IR, Gerry Dulac reported following the game.

There has been no official announcement from the team yet about Kazee heading to injured reserve as of Monday evening. If this does happen before the start of the season, he cannot return to the field this year.

Steelers are really hurting for safety depth

While losing a backup safety certainly won’t spell the end of Pittsburgh’s season before it even gets started, this loss could prove to be bigger than fans might think. In his first season with the Steelers, Kazee was having an excellent summer as he showcased his ability to make plays in the passing game as well as come up and support the run.

Though he wasn’t going to start with Minkah Fitzpatrick and Terrell Edmunds ahead of him on the depth chart, Kazee not only had the chance to be the primary backup at both free safety and strong safety, but he also would have carved out a role in Pittsburgh’s dime defense.

Unfortunately, Kazee isn’t the only Steelers safety who has already landed on IR. Karl Joseph was carted off the field with an ankle injury during the first preseason game. The former first-round pick of the Raiders had a chance to be part of the picture this year as well.

Now Pittsburgh has lost two players who would have potentially been their primary backups at the safety positions. Though Fitzpatrick and Edmunds have both been blessed with great health so far during their playing careers, that could change at a moment’s notice. As it stands, Tre Norwood seems like the most candidate to back up Fitzpatrick at free safety, but I’m not sure if he has the skill set to be Edmunds’ backup.

With the severe injuries to Kazee and Joseph, the door for the backup strong safety position is wide open at the moment. This could ultimately come down to who the Steelers view as the best option between Miles Killebrew, Linden Stephens, or newcomer Elijah Riley. However, it’s possible that the Steelers will now be scouring the waiver wire for an upgrade to the depth of the safety position.

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At this point in time, it looks like there’s a chance Damontae Kazee could return to the field this season if Pittsburgh decides to hang onto him until the season starts before placing him on IR, but that’s an extra roster spot they might not be able to afford. The Steelers need to make plans in the meantime. The depth at the safety position was once a strength of the team, but it suddenly looks like a weakness.