Steelers' Darius Rush Using Outstanding First Week Of OTAs To Gain An Early Leg Up In Cornerback Competition

steelers' darius rush using outstanding first week of otas to gain an early leg up in cornerback competition

Steelers' Darius Rush Using Outstanding First Week Of OTAs To Gain An Early Leg Up In Cornerback Competition

Pittsburgh Steelers cornerback Darius Rush got a good dose of how difficult the NFL can be during his rookie season in 2023. After being picked in the fifth round by the Indianapolis Colts and securing an interception for a touchdown in the preseason against the Buffalo Bills, he failed to make the team's roster. Rush was picked up by the Kansas City Chiefs and added to the practice squad. Pittsburgh scooped him up in October when injuries decimated the secondary. In his first full season in Pittsburgh, Rush made significant progress during the first week of Organized Team Activities (OTAs) towards earning playing time.

Rush played three games for the team in 2023. He played 30 snaps on defense in his NFL debut against the Tennessee Titans in Week 9. He recorded three total tackles and a pass defended in his first NFL game. Rush didn't get much chance to prove himself in game settings for the rest of the season. He played nine defensive snaps against the Cincinnati Bengals in Week 12, but only played on special teams in his final contest of the season against the New England Patriots.

Brian Batko is one of the Steelers' beat writers for The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette and said during a recent episode of The North Shore Drive podcast that Rush has impressed him through one week of OTA practices. He thinks the 24-year-old is gaining some early separation in the competition amongst the position group.

"From Week 1 of OTAs, again with a grain of salt disclaimer, but I thought Darius Rush looked pretty solid out there," he said. He looked pretty fluid and smooth when he had opportunities with the first-team defense."

Rush will compete against a small group of players for playing time and possibly a roster spot during OTAs and training camp. Veteran Anthony Averett impressed enough at the team's rookie camp to earn a contract.

Second-year cornerback Cory Trice Jr. suffered a brutal injury in training camp in 2023 and hasn't even played an NFL preseason game. Trice hasn't been fully cleared for contact yet, which Batko said was an early reason to have Rush ahead of him at this point in the game.

Batko noted Rush and Trice are very similar in many ways. They both had decent pedigree coming out of college, only to be taken in later rounds of the 2023 NFL Draft. They have extremely comparable physical traits, and the team still believes in the upside with both.

"It stinks for Trice that he's not cleared for contact yet," Batko said. "He said he's sure he will be by training camp, and maybe he can make a late push. It's generally a level playing field until you get to those live periods at Saint Vincent College, but at least for right now, Rush has every opportunity to start making a good impression in a way that Trice simply can't."

Rush will continue to get chances to impress the coaching staff in practices. The pressure to best Trice likely won't come until the team is working out in Latrobe.

Steelers' Cornerback Situation Still Very Much In Flux 

Joey Porter Jr. impressed in his rookie season and earned the trust of the coaching staff to be the team's shutdown cornerback by the end of the campaign. He's the only sure thing in the team's cornerback room. Donte Jackson is on a mission to prove that he won't be slowed down by the injuries that have hampered him in recent seasons.

Trice and Rush are both young players with plenty of upside, but have yet to prove much of anything in the NFL. Averett is also out to prove that injuries won't hold him back from being a productive NFL Player.

It will be fascinating to see how the battles at cornerback play out over the offseason. If one of the young cornerbacks can win a starting position, it will bode exceptionally well for the team's future. Pittsburgh has brought in a group of cornerbacks with something to prove. Now, they will all be competing against each other to earn a chance to showcase their skills when the games start to matter.

Who do you think the Steelers cornerbacks for 2024 will be?

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