The Pittsburgh Steelers have already made several transitions during training camp. On Thursday, the team signed free agent cornerback Malik Reaves while releasing offensive lineman Bryce Harris after Harris failed the team’s conditioning test on Wednesday. On Wednesday, Pittsburgh placed wide receiver Eli Rogers on the team’s PUP list shortly after signing him to a 1-year deal. The team waived injured cornerback Trey Johnson to make room for Rogers.
A two time second-team all-conference performer at Villanova, Reaves, who was waived by the Chiefs last month after going undrafted this spring, finished fourth on the Wildcats with 58 tackles in 2017. In 43 games at Villanova, Reaves registered 178 tackles along with four interceptions, 13 pass defenses, and two forced fumbles.
According to his NFL.com draft profile, Reaves’ strengths include his size, versatility as a possible safety, ability in run support and his ability to play through pain (he played through a meniscus tear in 2016). His weakness included “poor ball production numbers,” a below average closing burst, limitations in man coverage and an inability to carry long speed down the field.
“Reaves has good size and toughness and shows pretty good awareness from zone,” NFL.com wrote of Reaves, “but his lack of athletic ability and closing burst make it hard for him to make plays on the ball in any coverage. Reaves may get a look at safety, but he could be a long shot to make a roster.”
Pittsburgh didn’t draft a cornerback this spring after drafting starting corner Artie Burns with their first pick in 2016 and Cam Sutton in the third round in 2017. They did select two safeties during the 2018 NFL Draft in first round pick Terrell Edmunds and fifth round pick, Marcus Allen. The Steelers signed two time Pro Bowl cornerback Joe Haden to a three-year, $27 million deal before the start of the 2017 season. Haden immediately earned a starting job alongside Burns while helping the Steelers go from 16th in the NFL in pass defense in 2016 to fifth in that department in 2017.
Joining Haden as a new cornerback in Pittsburgh last season was Mike Hilton, who spent the end of the 2016 season on the Steelers’ practice squad before making the team’s 53-man roster coming out of last year’s training camp. Hilton earned significant playing time last season while recording two interceptions, 54 tackles and 4.0 sacks.
Pittsburgh’s secondary will be coached this season by Tom Bradley, a longterm college football defensive assistant who will be coaching at the NFL level for the first time in 2018. During a meeting with Steelers.com earlier this offseason, Bradley explained his basic expectations for Pittsburgh’s secondary in 2018.
“You gotta be able to talk, you gotta be able to communicate, you gotta be able to stop the big plays, and these are the three things we gotta emphasize,” Bradley said. “I think sometimes, everybody tries to make it out to be a little more complicated than it really is, but if you take care of the little things, the big things are gonna take care of themselves.”