The Pittsburgh Steelers had visions of their future number one cornerback when they made Artie Burns their first-round selection in the 2016 NFL Draft. A 20-year-old underclassman out of Miami who was not even fully committed to football as a multi-star athlete, they knew it might take time but that it only meant his ceiling was even higher with the potential for growth.
Then the opportunity came along to sign Joe Haden when the Cleveland Browns surprisingly released him last in the preseason a year ago. While the team did not use him to shadow anybody and the two cornerbacks played sides, the general understanding unofficially was that Haden was their top cornerback.
The notion of a number one and number two cornerback is one that Burns had long rejected, something that he re-affirmed over the weekend, telling reporters that “we’re both out there so we’re both ones. I don’t really see it like that”.
Haden seems to disagree. Asked about his younger teammate yesterday, he told Gerry Dulac of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette that “Artie’s playing like he wants to be the number one corner”. Obviously the 10th-year veteran was paying him a compliment and not insinuating that he sees Burns as a challenger to his role on the team.
In truth, we don’t actually know how the Steelers coaching staff views the situation, and we can’t really because there are too many fresh parts. Whether or not there is a ‘number one’ that would be moved around the field to follow a particular player depends in large part on how the defensive backs coach runs, and we are new to Tom Bradley.
We also don’t know if the Steelers were only cautious about doing that because they just acquired Haden in the last minute. He didn’t have much time to absorb the defense before he was thrown into the mix, so it wouldn’t be until this year that they might really explore that idea.
The hope is that Burns will have risen his level of play up to a point that would make that conversation moot, the Steelers seeing an equal level of performance on either side of the field that would allow them to strictly play sides.
The third-year player has had some bright spots so far this training camp, but you know that with the amount of reps that he gets against Antonio Brown, those peaks will be accompanied by valleys. Alex Kozora pointed out one sequence in practice yesterday in which he gave up a long ball to Brown, but than Haden covered the receiver twice to force incompletions. Haden was then juked by James Conner for a long rushing touchdown, however.