The preseason finale against the Panthers is a critical opportunity for Pittsburgh Steelers rookie cornerback Artie Burns—certainly not for job security, no, but for much else, there is to be gained. The neophyte may have entered the league with a first-round pedigree, but that means little to his coaches, and less to his opponents.
Burns has been suffering through a quad injury that caused him to miss most of training camp, as well as the first three preseason games. He only just returned full-time to practice on Sunday, during which the Steelers mixed him in, seemingly for the first time, in their quarter look, which they have not used at all this preseason.
The rookie’s situation by now is well-known, of course. He declared for the draft as an underclassman, and even at that, he was not a full-time starter during his final collegiate season. He turned just 21 soon after he was drafted.
More importantly, his game is less aged than he is himself. But as the cards of his life have dealt him, where he already finds himself the man of his household, in care of two younger siblings and a young child of his own, the Steelers may at some point this season require him to mature beyond his years as well.
Given the lack of practice time, let alone playing time during the preseason, his lone opportunity for on-field experience before the snaps actually start to matter is a critical opportunity for evaluation, and he has already said that the Steelers hardly plan to take him off the field for the entire game.
It may be the only playing time on defense that he sees for a while, especially if he struggles against the Panthers’ second- and third-string players, and that is certainly a real possibility. He has a great deal of potential, but there is also a long journey ahead of him before that potential can be fully unlocked.
Burns understandably said that he is anxious to get out on the field for the first time as a professional football player and begin to do the job that he was chosen to do. “I was cringing in my sleep I am so anxious to play Thursday”, he said.
More importantly, he also said that he felt no pain and that he was able to run around unhindered, news that is especially important coming a day after he received his first extended practice time, which suggests that he has healed well from his quad injury, with the hope of avoiding a setback.
It Burns manages to play well against Carolina, he can certainly carve out a role for himself in the secondary during his rookie season, even if it is simply as a sixth defensive back in their quarter defense. That is how Cortez Allen, who was even less polished in 2010, began as a rookie—though one certainly hopes that his course goes by a different way than the former Steeler’s has.