The Pittsburgh Steelers went ahead and did what seemingly everybody has been wanting them to do for the past decade or so and drafted a cornerback in the first round of the 2016 NFL Draft. The problem is that, unless you’re picking in the top 10, or sometimes even in the top five, it’s hard to find such a player who can be a starter on day one.
In the case of the Steelers’ Artie Burns, a two-sport junior who was not a full-time starter, it was assumed from the jump that he would not be able to start for them right away, and perhaps not even contribute readily, as much as the coaching staff might pay lip service to the contrary.
But in the meantime, his progress is being stunted at the most critical time, as an injury is keeping him out of much of training camp, including many portions of yesterday’s joint practice with the Lions, which would have given him a good opportunity to measure himself against actual opposition.
With the Steelers having already likely lost Senquez Golson for the year with a foot injury, for which he has recently undergone surgery, it had seemed all the more important that Burns would be able to get up to speed and ready himself to contribute in some form or fashion if it became necessary.
But it would be exceedingly difficult for him to do so while sitting on the sidelines. The saying is that you can’t make the club from the tub, and while he is at no risk of not making the team, of course, he is making it awfully difficult for the coaching staff to gauge where he is in his development, let alone to gain trust in his ability to play within their defense.
Granted, the fact is that the Steelers have not even played a preseason game yet, but we are a third of the way through August, and there are only so many training camp practices remaining. For a player as raw as Burns, every rep is crucial, and every one that he misses can further delay his ability to contribute.
Otherwise, the team risks putting him on the field before he is ready, and we have seen enough of cornerbacks taking the field for this defense without having been adequately ready to do so. Burns playing as a liability does nobody, including himself, any good.
Though he appears to be not far off from returning as a full contributor in practice, perhaps as soon as later today, he has already missed a lot of valuable first-hand reps, which is nothing if not unfortunate. That does not mean, of course, that he can’t play, but it simply doesn’t help.