What you see during Thursday night games isn’t necessarily always what you should be expecting to see afterward, because on the short week teams have a tendency to try to do things they might not ordinarily do, whether due to fatigue or a lack of appropriate preparation time on or off the practice field.
One thing that we did see in the Pittsburgh Steelers’ past game that we had not seen since the start of the season was veteran safety Morgan Burnett actually being rotated at the strong safety position with rookie starter Terrell Edmunds. Was that because of the short week and the importance of practice reps for rookies, or something that will continue?
For what it’s worth, Head Coach Mike Tomlin already stated on this side of the bye week that he was “interested in” playing both players, but in the first two games after the bye, Burnett had only been limiting to work as the dimeback in sub-package play.
Was the game against the Carolina Panthers the start of a rotation designed to get Burnett back into regular playing time and to reduce the workload and responsibilities on Edmunds, who had been averaging about 65 snaps per game—plus another 15 on special teams—since Week Three when Burnett was first injured in-season?
In part due to the rotation and in part due to the blowout nature of the result—even Jordan Dangerfield got some playing time, as did Tyler Matakevich—Burnett actually ended up playing a couple more snaps than did Edmunds, who saw just 33 snaps.
On initial appearances, the veteran safety seemed to play well while on the field for close to 40 snaps, certainly a cleaner game than he had several days earlier in Baltimore against the Ravens, but his play going back to the preseason when he has been available has largely been above the line.
Of course, they signed him to a starter’s contract, and he was supposed to start. He would have started if not for repeated injuries to his groin and hamstrings, which has unfortunately been a chronic problem in his last few seasons with the Green Bay Packers.
Edmunds has largely made the need for him to be in the starting lineup largely negligible, though he still has his rookie moments, even in this past game, and I think it would be advantageous if they are able to get him off the field here and there.
Whenever you choose to work in a rotational fashion at a position such as safety, however, you introduce unnecessary variables that can create chaos. They did it in 2016 with Sean Davis and Robert Golden. If that is the plan going forward with Edmunds and Burnett, we will see how it works out.