Training camp is now upon us, in case you have failed to take notice. The Pittsburgh Steelers reported to Latrobe on July 28, and began practicing the following day in preparation for their first preseason game on August 12, and eventually, for the 2016 regular season in April.
Every NFL season is like an investigation of sorts, with the offseason and preseason serving as the fact-finding portion, gathering the questions that are most prudent to ask in order to understand the story of the team in the current season. And it is in training camp that we really begin to start finding the answers to those questions.
You can rest assured that we have the questions, and we will be monitoring the developments in training camp and the preseason looking for the answers as we look to evaluate the makeup of the Steelers as they head into a regular season in which they are among the favorites to win the Super Bowl.
Question: Can Sean Davis handle the slot?
This may seem like beating a dead horse at this point, but the truth is that this may be the biggest question that the Steelers find themselves being tasked to answer this training camp: can rookie safety Sean Davis handle the slot cornerback position for the team in 2016?
It certainly appears as though the Steelers have every intention of going forward with that plan, following the injury to Senquez Golson that seems likely to end his season before it began, but that is a lot to ask a rookie to handle, especially when he was not drafted to play there.
While Davis’ versatility obviously attracted the Steelers to him—he had more than a season’s worth of experience lining up as an outside cornerback in college, including during his final season—they did draft him to play safety, but Golson’ injury left open a position that needed to be filled.
The team doesn’t want to move William Gay back into the slot, and their other chief cornerbacks are either outside players or not seasoned enough to be expected to contribute, so in a way, it feels as though Davis is the only option.
But if he can’t handle it—if he is costing the team too much during his growing pains—they may have no choice but to find an alternative. It was just last season when the defense swapped out two starters between the final preseason game and the regular season opener.
The slot is likely a more forgiving space to play in for a player who is more naturally a safety, as opposed to expecting him to line up on the outside covering wide receivers, and, indeed, occasional man coverage over the slot is a typical responsibility of a starting safety.
But this season feels all too important to wade through the growing pains of a rookie if it means costing chunks of yardage, scores, and even games. it would be great to know before the season starts if he looks like he is up to the task.