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2016 Steelers South Side Questions: Game Edition – When And Where Will Justin Gilbert Play?

The regular season is here, and the Pittsburgh Steelers are taking their practices at the UPMC Rooney Sports Complex, formerly known and still referred to as the ‘South Side’ facility of Heinz Field. While the real work is now upon us, there is plenty left to be done.

And there are plenty of questions left unanswered as well. The offseason is just really the beginning phase of the answer-seeking process, which is lasts all the way through the Super Bowl for teams fortunate enough to reach that far.

You can rest assured that we have the questions, and we will be monitoring the developments in the regular season and beyond looking for the answers as we look to evaluate the makeup of the Steelers as they wade through a regular season in which they are, at least supposed to be, among the favorites to win the Super Bowl.

Question: Game Edition – Will newly-acquired cornerback and kick returner Justin Gilbert play today, and where?

The Pittsburgh Steelers acquired former top-10 draft pick Justin Gilbert from the Browns during training camp for a 2018 sixth-round draft pick. That would seem to be a mere pittance in comparison for what you would expect to get in return for the top cornerback in a draft class in his third season—though it does come with the guaranteed money attached—but there is a reason he was made available.

Still, the Steelers are in a bind on defense, with a couple of injuries in the secondary jumbling things around. They only had four healthy cornerbacks on the roster to start the season, and had been using Sean Davis, primarily a safety, in the slot.

But Davis is banged up, and will likely be limited, which will probably push William Gay into the slot for the bulk of their nickel snaps. That leaves only Gilbert and rookie Artie Burns to take over Gay’s outside position, and Burns has struggled with his tackling consistently throughout his playing time this regular season.

Should Davis struggle to get on the field, then Gilbert will obviously be the sixth defensive back in their dime defense one way or another, but even if it doesn’t come to that, he may still be mixed and matched into the defense with Burns and Davis in the nickel all the same as the Steelers try to get a feel for their secondary group. And if he plays dime with Gay, Burns, and Ross Cockrell as the other three cornerbacks, who else plays in the slot?

Of course, the Steelers have not had much to offer in the way of kick returns, either. Granted, the majority of returns have gone for touchbacks, but the few that have been returned have not been impressive. I don’t believe they have one returned to the 25-yard line that was not a squib kick.

Oh, and it should  be pointed out that the Chiefs rank near the bottom of the league, having registered only six touchbacks on 16 kickoffs, and they have been allowing 27.3 yards per return, fourth-most in the league. If there was a time to make a change at kick returner, this would be the game.

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