There was a time long ago that it was the norm for players to play on both sides of the football. Two-way players are quite rare these days, but they still exist. The game eventually evolved over time to have players in fixed positions who were responsible for every snap taken there.
We have slowly seen that, too, slip away from the norm, at least for some positions. I have a hard time envisioning an era of the game in which quarterbacks see specialized roles at the NFL level, unless it really just happens to coincide with a dramatic shift in talent. But other positions such as running back and defensive back have absolutely become specialized.
And the Pittsburgh Steelers appear to be all-in on that for the secondary, having added a number of versatile players into the secondary over the course of the past two offseasons that give them options in terms of personnel and matchups.
One of those versatile defensive backs talked about just that fact recently prior to the summer break. Cameron Sutton told Joe Rutter of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review that the team has “a lot of versatile guys. Our room is not just based upon playing one position”.
Sutton was a third-round pick last season who spent his rookie year playing at outside cornerback, but he has been practicing inside in the slot and even a little bit at safety so far this offseason. Rookie draft picks Terrell Edmunds and Marcus Allen, as well as veteran free agent signing Morgan Burnett, are all also capable of handling different responsibilities.
“There are times a guy has to play the high hole or the corner or in the box. I don’t think anyone limits themselves on saying I play one position”, Sutton told Rutter. “That’s good for our defense”.
Of particular interest to the Steelers should be the identification of a defensive back who can be a matchup option against the game’s top pass-catchers that are not wide receivers. Tight ends in particular have often had their way with whoever was assigned to them in recent years, though what Rob Gronkowski did to Sean Davis and others who attempted to cover him last season was by no means typical.
Other positions, however, you don’t mind being more fixed. Joe Haden and Artie Burns, for example, you would like to see focus on going what they do and doing it at the highest level possible. Perhaps even Mike Hilton you would like to focus on his role in the slot and the variety of assignments he draws from there.
But it’s clear that the Steelers are looking to inject greater versatility into the back end of their defense with players like Edmunds, who may be on the field in some capacity sooner rather than later, and one can only hope that this contributes to their efforts in a positive way.