Two weeks ago, when he injured his back early in the first quarter, rookie Pittsburgh Steelers defensive back Sean Davis hardly missed a snap. Not only did he stay in the game, he shifted from the position that he has been playing, in the slot, to safety, which is the position that he was drafted to play, but where he has not seen much time during the regular season.
Davis said after the game that he probably made his back injury worse by continuing to play, and he missed most of practice the following week before participating on Friday, and essentially dressing by default for Sunday’s game.
In that game, he was kept completely off the field on defense, and he logged just one late-game snap on a punt return, playing his usual position, which was being filled at the time by Darrius Heyward-Bey. Heyward-Bey left the game with a shoulder injury, however, prompting Davis to take the rep.
I wrote after that game that, with the expanded role for Artie Burns and the new package that incorporated Justin Gilbert into the rotation, if Robert Golden is able to get back, the Steelers might be considering weighing their options and taking their time in getting Davis back on the field after he was basically a scratch on Sunday.
But so far this week, he has been a full participant in practice, and also confirmed to reporters that he has been working in his usual slot position, which certainly suggests to me that the team still views him as the preferred option over Burns at this point.
Golden has participated in practice this week, but only on a limited basis, which likely means that Davis has taken some first-team reps with Jordan Dangerfield, who started in Golden’s place on Sunday, lined up at strong safety.
Over the course of the first three weeks of the season, Davis racked up 176 snaps, which is still more than Burns has played this season, in spite of the fact that the second-round pick did not participate on defense at all on Sunday, though the first-rounder’s extensive playing time during that game obviously closed that gap significantly.
Especially considering the knee injury that Gilbert recently suffered in practice, the Steelers are really becoming increasingly thin at defensive back. If Golden is unable to go on Sunday, it looks like the team will be down to just seven defensive backs in total who are healthy enough to dress.
Outside of Golden, however, that total would include five of their top six, with Dangerfield stepping in and allowing the team to play their dime defense. It will be interesting to see how that is used this week.
The Steelers dabbled with the dime in the opener, but played it extensively late in the second game. Due to injuries, they were not able to utilize it at all since Golden went down. On Sunday, they even used a package in which they used four cornerbacks and a safety.