The 2016 NFL Draft could hardly have gone much better in the favor of Pittsburgh Steelers defensive backs coach Carnell Lake, who was able to acquire a pair of starters for his secondary in the form of cornerback Artie Burns, taken in the first round, and safety Sean Davis, who was taken a round later.
Part of the reason that they liked Davis is because he offered some flexibility in his skill set, spending his final season in college actually playing at cornerback. So when the regular season opened, it actually came to pass that it was the second-round pick, the safety, starting at cornerback in the slot, while Burns got a few deps in the dime package, but mostly watched.
Of course, we know how the rest of the season went. Davis suffered a shoulder injury—a torn labrum—in the third game of the season. He was more or less given the next game off before returning in a reduced role later in the first half of the year.
But by the second half of the season, the Steelers began rotating him at strong safety, and after two games of accruing a higher and higher snap count, he ended up taking over the starting job, taking ownership of it from that point on.
Lake spoke about Burns and Davis while appearing on Steelers Nation Radio yesterday, telling the host that “Sean is doing well”, while mostly observing as he recovers from shoulder surgery. “Obviously right now I’d love to have him on the field, but he’s recovering obviously from last year’s injuries”, he said.
“I’ve got to give Sean credit. He was playing with multiple injuries during the season and still able to be productive out there and pick up his play as the season progressed”, Lake emphasized. And that would accurately sum things up. As he progressed at his position, he did so while playing with an injury that required surgery.
“That says a lot about him”, the defensive backs coach added, pointing to “his toughness, and his character”. Davis seemed to endear himself to his coaches virtually right off the bat with his physical conditioning, willingness to do anything asked, and ability to digest information quickly.
“I obviously want to see Sean continue to progress”, Lake said, and he added, “I think with his athleticism and the way he approaches the game, we should expect more out of him and he has more to give”. For his part, the former second-rounder has said on multiple occasions already this year that last season is the worst he ever plans on playing.
As I wrote about earlier today, the growth of the secondary, and thus of the defense—and thus of the team—depends largely on the growth of Burns and Davis as they enter their second season. They are already looking to become leaders on the field and in the locker room, so perhaps Lake’s ambitions for his young pupils are not so much of a stretch.