The Pittsburgh Steelers used a third-round draft pick on cornerback Cameron Sutton around this time last year because they believed that he could play football. (Obviously.) He didn’t get many opportunities to prove that in his first season in the NFL due to a hamstring injury that resulted in him spending most of his rookie year on injured reserve, but he did have a solid performance when he was activated.
That time off the field, however, was frustrating for the young player, though he credits his teammates and coaches in helping to keep him engaged and feeling as though he was a part of the team even while he was unable to be out on the practice field.
Smart as he is, he did use his time away from the physical aspect of the game to gain a better understanding of the mental aspects, particularly in the respects that the game differs at the professional level in comparison to the college game from whence he came.
“A lot of different rules change, a lot of different play calls and concepts, kind of similar to college but everything has different meaning, different code names”, he told Teresa Varley recently for the team’s website. He grew to understand just how different the game was from what he knew when he had no part of the on-field aspect.
“Not being out there really jump started that”, he said. “I was able to pick up on a lot of different concepts and how teams were trying to attack our defense, or different player styles”. He also pointed out that he relied upon the veteran wisdom of some of the older players in the secondary, such as William Gay and Joe Haden.
“We had good veteran guys in our room that have been doing it for a long time as well. I was able to pick at their minds and what they have seen over the course of the years”, the second-year man said. “How has their game evolved over the course of the years and what has helped them to get to that point”.
Sutton already came into the league regarded highly for his mental acumen and his deep understanding of the game relative to his level of experience. He is a player who prides himself in knowing what every player on the field is supposed to be doing, and former college teammates say of him that he could play any position in the secondary. And he has only further enhanced the mental aspect of his game.
“Even though I wasn’t out there I felt like I have grown”, he said of his rookie season. “I started more on the mental side, learned from watching. Then from physical side getting the reps, getting the game speed, seeing what happens out there, the communication aspect. Everything that goes into being a great team and a great teammate. I have definitely seen the growth in that aspect”.