According to multiple media reports, Pittsburgh Steelers rookie cornerback, and first-round draft pick, Artie Burns finally returned to full practice yesterday. And when he did so, in live scrimmages, there was an interesting change that might prove to be lasting, over time.
No, not a change in throwing Burns in the starting lineup, but rather a change for his fellow rookie defensive back, Sean Davis, who was drafted to play safety, but has spent as much or more time working as the slot cornerback over the course of the offseason as he has on the back end of the defense.
When Burns entered the scrimmage, it was—presumably with the first-team unit—in the Steelers’ dime, or quarter, package. Burns entered the field as the right outside cornerback, according to Jeremy Fowler, and the Steelers slid William Gay inside, for perhaps the first significant snaps inside that he has played all offseason.
Davis stayed in, however, as a deep safety, with Robert Golden rotating down into the box in lieu of a second inside linebacker. The rest of the starting secondary left unnamed should be predictable enough. But what to draw from this, if anything, is obviously preliminary, and, at best, unclear.
The fact that Gay was given work inside for the first time pretty much since last year might be telling, and indicative of their feeling that they need to use him there. Whether as a starter due to a lack of confidence in Davis or as a reserve in feeling that there is a lack of a second option is unclear.
But defensive coordinator Keith Butler had some interesting comments about his rookie second-round pick today with regards to his work in the slot thus far. Acknowledging that he got “schooled” a bit in coverage in the slot a time or two during the preseason, Butler said that Davis “can handle it mentally”, but added, “physically, we’ll see”.
It would not be the size, of course, as after all Davis has the body of a safety. Rather, his short-area quickness and hip flexibility may be in question, which are two of the most important traits in covering the ‘twitchy’ wide receivers that line up in the slot today.
That was why the Steelers envisioned Senquez Golson in that role, and still do, assuredly, whenever they get him back. Might it be that the team believes he will indeed return at some point during the second half of the season, and might choose instead to use Gay there in the meantime to keep Davis at his long-term position?
That is, of course, purely idle speculation, as this is all simply from one preseason practice. “We are going to look at other things”, Butler said when asked about the defensive alignment with Burns on the outside, Gay kicked inside, and Davis at safety. “We take a look at that to get a feel for where they are at”. Yet I can’t help be feel there is a good chance we see this personnel package during the regular season.