According to Gerry Dulac of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, rookie first-round draft choice Terrell Edmunds is expected to start at strong safety on Sunday rather than free agent acquisition Morgan Burnett, a 10th-year safety from the Green Bay Packers who was signed in March with the intention of replacing Mike Mitchell.
While Edmunds may start on Sunday, I would caution against reading too much into that. It is quite possible that this becomes just the first in a decade-long consecutive start streak, to be certain. But the Steelers could also simply be choosing to use caution while working Burnett back from injury.
From what I’ve gathered relative to comments made over the past week, it is possible, maybe even likely, that the team is going to be rotating the two safeties, as they did with Mitchell and J.J. Wilcox as the former recovered from an early-season injury. Bud Dupree told Mike Prisuta last week that “it’ll be good to see the rotation that they have”, while Burnett a couple of days ago said that he did not know if he would be starting, saying “right now we’re just shuffling guys around”.
Bud Dupree said yesterday he expects Morgan Burnett back for Cleveland. As for the time Burnett has missed: “Terrell (Edmunds) is doing a great job in Morgan’s spot, so it’ll be good to see the rotation that they have.” Dupree’s not the DC, but that’s still an intriguing scenario
— Mike Prisuta (@DVEMike) August 28, 2018
Terrell Edmunds on whether he’ll start: “I don’t know. Right now we’re just shuffling guys around. We don’t really look too much into who’s starting this day and who’s starting that day. At the end of the day we all gotta go out there and do the same thing. We gotta be one team.”
— Mike Prisuta (@DVEMike) September 5, 2018
The veteran safety took a couple of bad angles while he participated in the team’s first two preseason games, but he also played well overall, making sound tackles in the open field in particular, and showing strong communication. Those are the two exact qualities the team was looking for.
Following that second preseason game, however, he suffered a hamstring injury that left him sidelined for the duration of the offseason. In spite of the fact that he has been listed as a full participant so far this week, such designations frankly can be generous. Vance McDonald was initially listed as a limited participant in practice yesterday. Then he told reporters he did not practice, and was subsequently downgraded to ‘Did Not Practice’.
Burnett has missed extensive time, frankly, all offseason. He missed parts of OTAs and all of minicamp, and multiple parts of training camp and the preseason, all due to soft tissue injuries, which means that he missed out on a lot of reps. Edmunds did not. He has been the one starting the preseason games, consistently, logging 119 snaps, which was the seventh-most on defense of all 40 players who logged such snaps for the Steelers this preseason.
Burnett, in contrast, played 36 snaps, and has spent a lot of time watching from the sidelines. If the Steelers are just being cautious in bringing him back up to full speed, or playing Edmunds because they’re more comfortable with the reps he has been able to take, which the veteran has missed, then that could suggest the plan is not for the rookie to be a full-time starter right now.
In other words, Burnett could be starting next week. And that would become a whole lot more likely if Edmunds struggles in any way, but especially in terms of displaying proper communication. The Steelers have tried and failed to start defensive rookies before in 2013 and 2014 with Jarvis Jones and Ryan Shazier.
This is not meant to rain on the rookie parade by any means. And perhaps the Steelers truly did choose to move Edmunds into the starting lineup in the first game of his career. But because of Burnett’s recent pattern of injuries, and absent clear confirmation, we can’t brand him a full-time starter just yet, though he certainly seems to be in a position to claim the position for himself by playing well.