The Pittsburgh Steelers had been using a rotational system at the right outside cornerback position over the course of their past four games after they decided that third-year starter Artie Burns was not in a position to assume a full-time role to his combined mental and physical struggles.
That seemed to change today, only not in the way Burns would have preferred it, as it was Coty Sensabaugh who not only started the game but logged all of the defensive snaps—at least until he suffered a foot injury. And then it was second-year cornerback Cameron Sutton who came into the game instead.
A third-round pick in 2017, Sutton has seen his role vastly expand since his rookie year, during which he spent the majority of the time on injured reserve. So far, he has already logged time on both the left and right sides on the outside. He also started in the slot when Mike Hilton missed a game and has been used as the team’s dimeback while Morgan Burnett was injured.
In other words, it is nothing new to see Sutton being moved around. He talked extensively during the offseason about not only his ability but his willingness to play wherever the coaching staff wanted or needed him. He has even taken reps at safety during practice, and may actually be third in line, behind Mike Hilton, at free safety should Sean Davis suffer an injury if a report earlier in the season is to be believed.
Burns, a 2016 first-round pick, has not made the development expected of a third-year player, even granting the consideration that he is only 23 years old. While he may still be able to turn things around and become a quality starter, the Steelers feel as though they cannot afford to play through his difficulties.
They started by limiting his snaps, but apparently decided during the bye week that they don’t want to even put him on the field until he has regained the coaching staff’s trust, as made evident by his lack of rotation, and then the decision to replace Sensabaugh with Sutton after his injury.
It’s an obviously bad sign for the young cornerback, but the only thing he can do is ‘smile through the adversity’, as Head Coach Mike Tomlin said during his pre-game press conference, at which point it was by no means clear that he would not be given an opportunity to play on defense.
What awaits him for now is uncertain. The Steelers also made the decision to leave rookie wide receiver James Washington inactive after he played extensively in the past five games because he had not made the in-season advancements that they were counting on seeing from him.