Updated: Jul 2, 2021
(Photo by Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)
Steelers cornerback James Pierre was a training camp standout last season and made the team's 53-man roster as an undrafted rookie free agent, which says a lot about Pierre being that there were no OTAs, minicamp and preseason games last year due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
By the end of the 2020 season, Pierre surpassed Justin Layne on the depth chart and was getting defensive snaps, so there are some higher expectations for Pierre as he heads into Year 2. And throughout the first two days of mandatory minicamp, he has been getting a lot of praise from coaches and teammates, especially Mike Tomlin.
"He is one of those second-year guys that we all have high expectations for," Tomlin said of Pierre. "I think it's reasonable when you've been around a guy that's been in the program and understands what to expect, what is needed of him physically, mentally and so forth. I think we are looking for all of those second-year players to gain experience. That guy gained a lot of experience last year. He didn't play a lot of defense, but he had a helmet every week, he was preparing every week. He was a critical component of our special teams unit and that is usually an indication that a guy is ready to proceed and advance, and I think it's reasonable to expect him to do so."
Cam Sutton will be the starting outside cornerback opposite of Joe Haden this year, but Pierre could have a role where he's the outside cornerback and the Steelers kick Sutton to the slot when they go to their sub-packages. That will be decided during training camp and the preseason, but Pierre is making an impression at minicamp and today he picked off Ben Roethlisberger twice.
Pierre said that his interception during the two-minute drill was his favorite of the two.
"I like the two-minute because it actually got the guys, got the whole team, the energy of the defense, just to see the guys turning up with me," he said. "The two minute, to end it, it's just a good feeling just to see the guys pumped, the energy of the defense."
Pierre was also thrilled to have his two picks come off a future Hall of Fame quarterback.
"To be honest, Ben is not just throwing anybody a ball," Pierre said. "It's precious to get one of those. It's hard to get it from Ben so when I got those it kinda made me smile. But just to see the other guys, it made me happier.
"And then after practice Ben came up to me, told me good job, gave me a fist bump. It built my confidence a little bit."
It should be interesting to see Pierre at training camp and in the preseason this year. He's certainly an upcoming player that could make some noise this season, and the Steelers need a young defensive back to step up with the departures of Mike Hilton and Steven Nelson this offseason.