The Pittsburgh Steelers could have as many as two of their top seven defensive backs down for tonight’s game against the Los Angeles Chargers, and that could be good news for Jordan Dangerfield, the fringe safety who has been hanging around seemingly for decades at this point.
The honorary veteran was awarded a sub-package role earlier this season in which the defense utilizes him as a heavier defender, replacing cornerback Coty Sensabaugh in obvious run sets that feature only one wide receiver, a look that they debuted two games ago against the Jacksonville Jaguars.
But tonight the team also figures to be without Morgan Burnett, the veteran free agent signing who was supposed to be their starting strong safety and then evolved into their dime defender. Dangerfield would be one of the top candidates to assume that role, at least in certain situations, especially if Cameron Sutton also misses the game with a personal matter.
After all, it’s not as though the team doesn’t believe in Dangerfield. He was already on the 53-man roster all of 2016 and was given the opportunity to start two games while then-starter Robert Golden was dealing with an injury in the first half of the year. An injury and subsequent trade acquisition was the reason that he did not make the 53 in 2017.
Based on prior evidence, Sutton would figure to be the top candidate to replace Burnett in the role of dimebacker because, well, that is already what he did earlier this season when the veteran missed time. But that was also while Artie Burns was still playing. Now that he is on the bench, perhaps he will be the next man up.
Or perhaps it will be Dangerfield, even if limited to certain situations in which the run remains more in-play. The Steelers do see him as more of a box safety, so there is reason to doubt that they might use him in situations in which only the pass is an option.
What he does have going for him is that he is actually the most veteran defensive back on the roster in terms of time served learning the Steelers’ system. Though he has only been on the roster for now a second season over a three-year period, he also spent years on the practice squad and in training camp, so he should be as comfortable with the calls as any defensive back they can put out there.
With two athletic starters that have range in Sean Davis and Terrell Edmunds, the Steelers could also be selective in the assignments that they entrust to him in scenarios in which he would be called upon to play against the pass.
A part of me hopes that neither Burnett nor Sutton play just so we could find out how the team would approach the scenario between Dangerfield, Burns, and even potentially Brian Allen or Marcus Allen, the latter of whom is expected to be active for the first time in his career.