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Devil’s Advocate: Shadowing Wide Receivers

You may recall for the past several offseasons that I ran an article series called The Optimist’s/Pessimist’s Take. I used it to explore different issues and topics the Pittsburgh Steelers were facing and took a positive or negative approach, examining each side in a separate article. This is essentially the same idea behind that, only condensed into one article for every topic.

In this version of the idea, I’ll be playing the Devil’s Advocate for both sides of the issue, looking at the best-case and worst-case scenarios in trying to find the range of likely outcomes of what is likely to happen for the Steelers relating to whatever topic the article is covering.

When it comes to the process of trying to construct a championship roster, the reality is that there are a ton of moving parts, and several ways to acquire said parts. There are a lot of things that can go right or wrong in not always predictable ways, so I think it’s helpful to try to look at issues by seeking out the boundaries of the likely positive or negative results.

Topic: Will the Steelers defense make use of shadowing wide receivers at all this season?

Something that the Steelers have hardly used at all since the retirement of Ike Taylor is the roving cover cornerback, a player who is able to shadow one specific opponent and line up with him anywhere on the field that he might move, including flipping entire sides of the field.

We did see this a little bit early on last season in two of the first five games. Ross Cockrell spent some time tracking A.J. Green against the Bengals, and then again with Brandon Marshall against the Jets. But they moved away from this with Artie Burns playing a bigger role in the defense to limit his responsibilities.

Burns should be much further along than he was last season, however, in terms of understanding where he should be and what he should be doing, so it shouldn’t be as much of a problem to move him around the field. That would lend credence to the suggestion that they could do some shadowing this year.

But at the same time, if Burns has developed as much as is expected, then will there be any need to do so? As much as this might raise some eyebrows for certain segments of the fan base, as we enter 2017, there isn’t exactly a wide gap in talent between Burns and Cockrell. So why bother using one to shadow a receiver? Just play sides.

On the other hand, if Burns really develops to such a degree that he could actually be that sort of shutdown cornerback, able to match up with and limit the elite receivers of the game, then at least we know that Cockrell is already comfortable moving around.

Which side do you lean closer toward?

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