The Pittsburgh Steelers were interested in drafting safety Sean Davis in 2016 because they were attracted to his potential versatility. That would have come in handy more had he not been able to lock down a starting job by the end of his rookie season, although his flexibility to play different roles will naturally remain valuable.
Still, his experience playing cornerback proved initially to be a road block early on during his rookie season because the Steelers, by necessity due to injury, ended up sticking him into the starting lineup as the slot cornerback, all the while still feeding him snaps at safety. Defensive coordinator Keith Butler admits that they put too much on his plate, in hindsight.
“We asked him to do a lot early in the season as a rookie—probably asked him to do a little bit too much”, the veteran defensive coach said during a recent radio interview. “We were playing him at a couple of different positions and stuff like that and then we got three or four games into the season and [head coach Mike Tomlin] says ‘maybe we should tone down what we’re trying to ask him to do’ because he was a rookie and he was a first-time guy and it’s a fairly complex defense”.
Davis spent about the first three or so games functioning as the Steelers’ slot cornerback, but after starting strong safety Robert Golden got injured in the third game, he had to move to safety to finish out the day. He was also injured in that game and took a back seat for the next few weeks.
It was during that time that the coaching staff gathered and decided to scale things back for the rookie to let him focus on developing at the safety position they drafted him to play. As Butler recalls, “we regulated his position he was playing. He played one position and he ended up playing very well for us at the end. We expect the same thing from him. The more and more he plays, the more rand more he learns, the easier it is for him, the faster he’s going to play, so we expect big things from him”.
Even though he won the Steelers’ rookie of the year award a year ago, there is still plenty of room for him to go, and Butler and the rest of the defense is counting on him and his fellow draftmates—Artie Burns and Javon Hargrave, who also cracked the starting lineup—to step it up in year two.
“It is a big step between your rookie year and your second year because you’ve got an idea of what everybody around you is doing, not just what you’re doing”, Butler said. “And when we get that way with our whole team, we’re going to be pretty good”.