Sometimes a player needs to take a back seat for a while in order to take the next step forward. That’s what the Pittsburgh Steelers are hoping is the case for third-year cornerback Artie Burns, who has spent most of the past seven games on the bench—hoping for that, and that he is ready to take that next step now.
As the cornerback himself and several of his teammates confirmed, Burns has been taking reps with the first-team defense this week for the first time in a while, since he was replaced entirely by Coty Sensabaugh in the starting lineup. In a game in which Sensabaugh was injured, Cameron Sutton came in to replace him.
Burns was a 2016 first-round pick whom the team envisioned as being a long-term starter, perhaps even a star, but he has not come close to living up to that yet. Still young at just 23 years old, he may be given a second chance starting on Sunday against the Patriots, and he feels he is ready for it.
“I’ve just been getting back in the lab, just waiting for my opportunity”, he said at practice yesterday. “I’m just working every day. Just coming in and grinding, doing the right techniques and stuff like that”.
Failure to play the right techniques had become one of the young cornerback’s biggest issues, which led to his demotion and subsequent benching. New defensive backs coach Tom Bradley has surely been working with him in that area over the past month and a half or so.
The only snap that Burns has played in recent weeks was on a two-point conversion attempt. Joe Haden suffered an injury on the play before that, which required him to temporarily leave the game, so Burns checked in to defend that play and subsequently gave up an easy conversion to tight end Antonio Gates.
He has talked even while he was still starting in a rotation about how his struggles have taken a mental toll on him and shaken his confidence. By this point he has had an extended period of time on which to reflect about his performance and how he can take the next step forward, as well as additional time to work on the fundamentals that have held him back.
“You just have to stay in it”, he told reporters about the mental struggles of remaining engaged in the system and in the defense while not being a contributor on the field and playing on the scout team. “It’s a long season. Just keep grinding and whenever an opportunity comes, it comes. I’ve got to take advantage of it”.
Will that opportunity come against the New England Patriots?