Cam Sutton needs to sprint to get on the moving train. But if he can catch it, even just the caboose, he could be the boost to the Pittsburgh Steelers’ defense they need. It was a limited view, roughly half a preseason game, but Sutton’s NFL debut was impressive. He made plays on the ball, supported the run, and rose to the moment.
Healthier in the secondary, the Steelers sprinkled in more dime personnel. Used it at least on one play, Mike Hilton serving as the dimeback, but it may have happened another time or two. Carnell Lake has envisioned Hilton as an option in the dime and it’s not a terrible idea but Sutton would be better. He’s bigger, a better athlete, and I like his ball skills more.
Pittsburgh is clearly in need, or at least a search, of a shakeup. But options are limited. Ross Cockrell/Coty Sensabaugh is generally six of one, half dozen of the other, Sutton had been sidelined, and Senquez Golson’s camp (and now Steelers’ career) ended as quickly as it started. The reality is they might not be able to make many drastic changes by the time the season begins. Instead, it’ll come with smaller steps. Third and long, run dime, putting Sutton in the slot with William Gay (and Burns, Cockrell/Sensabaugh) and take Vince Williams off the field. Gay and Sutton are capable blitzers, Gay still a strong tackler, and I think Sutton will get to a similar level.
That will hopefully be step one in Sutton transitioning into challenging, and ultimately taking, Gay’s slot role. That’s one shakeup that is possible and can bring real change to this secondary. Yes, it’s a little scary to throw a rookie into that role. But the Steelers made a similar jump with Artie Burns last year. He missed a large chunk of camp, not becoming a full go until the preseason finale and saw heavy snaps by the end of the season’s first quarter. The slot is more challenging but a slower pace and Sutton’s high football IQ – the number one thing the Steelers praised him for – will accelerate his development.
By Week 4, or worst case, after the bye, Sutton will hopefully be ready to take over. It’s not of the question for Sutton to compete on the outside, he’s played both spots, but I’d rather create competition across the board rather than a three-man competition for the LCB spot.
This plan for Sutton in the slot will have some bumps. But the status quo isn’t bring proper return on investment. It’s not a cure-all, and definitely not right away, but getting off the field on an extra third down a game can make all the difference.