Steelers’ Mike Tomlin Goes ‘Nuts,’ Offers Memorable New Tomlinism

Mike Tomlin

Mitchell Leff/Getty Images Head coach Mike Tomlin of the Pittsburgh Steelers looks on during the preseason game against the Philadelphia Eagles at Lincoln Financial Field on August 12, 2021.

On Monday Pittsburgh Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin uttered several different Tomlinisms during his five-minute press conference. But one brand-new turn of phrase stood out above the rest.

At one point, Tomlin was asked if former undrafted free agent James Pierre had shown enough to play right cornerback on passing downs. He indicated that the competition remains ongoing, except he had a decidedly curious way of putting it.

“We’re still squirreling those nuts,” Tomlin told reporters, including Brian Batko of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. “He’s got another big game. He’s got some practice this week—he, and others. He and J. Layne are doing a good job. We’ll keep watching,” he added, indicating that many jobs—at cornerback and elsewhere—won’t be won or lost until after Friday night’s final preseason game at Carolina (7:30 p.m. ET).

The Steelers’ New Plan at Cornerback

In a perfect world, the Steelers were hoping to keep fifth-year cornerback Cam Sutton, 26, at right cornerback full-time, with one of several different candidates stepping up to fill Mike Hilton’s shoes at slot corner. (Hilton served in that role for the past four seasons, but signed a four-year deal with the Cincinnati Bengals in mid-March.)

Yet neither Antoine Brooks Jr. nor Arthur Maulet have been able to win the job outright, in part due to health issues. Brooks missed the last two preseason games due to injury and Maulet went down with an ankle issue against the Detroit Lions. Maulet’s status for practice and Friday’s preseason finale remains in doubt.

Meanwhile, rookie undrafted free agent Shakur Brown (Michigan State) remains in the mix, but he doesn’t figure to be a significant part of the solution, at least not anytime soon.

This explains why the Steelers look to be preparing to utilize Sutton both inside and outside, with either Pierre or former third-round pick Justin Layne coming into the game when Sutton moves into the slot. CB1 Joe Haden figures to remain at left cornerback at all times.

According to Tomlin, Sutton—5-foot-11 and 188 pounds—is well-suited to playing this back-and-forth role.

It’s “very easy for him, but difficult for others,” he explained. “But that’s one of the things that attracted us to him even going back to the draft process. We often laugh about the night before his Pro Day in Knoxville [at the University of Tennessee]. We were blown away by his football intellect and that’s proven to be true over the course of his time here.”

As for why the Steelers didn’t use Sutton in the slot until the Lions game, Tomlin had a ready explanation.

“We haven’t focused on that element of it because that’s what we know. We know Cam is inside-capable so we spent some time focusing on others, but as we get toward the end [of the preseason], we need to tool him up and get him ready to go as an option in that space….”

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