Arguably the biggest reason that the Pittsburgh Steelers were drawn to cornerback Cameron Sutton coming out of the draft in 2017 is because his college career demonstrated that he was a player who was willing and able to make plays on the ball. While his interception numbers were not eye-popping, he finished his time as Tennessee’s leader in passes defensed.
And one of the biggest complaints that Head Coach Mike Tomlin has had about his defensive unit in recent weeks has been their inability to make plays on the ball. In fact, the defensive line has probably had more passes batted down over the past month than the linebackers and secondary have had passes defensed.
Outside of Joe Haden, who has 10 passes defensed and an interception in 12 games, nobody else in the secondary has really been consistent in this regard. Mike Hilton has been the next-closest, but he has been struggling in recent weeks, and that is seemingly leading to Sutton being given the opportunity to earn the slot role.
Sutton, who has an interception and three passes defensed this year in limited playing time, figures to be the Steelers’ slot defender today against the New England Patriots. The comments from his teammates made it pretty clear why they are turning to him.
“One thing you know about him, he’s not afraid. Not of the opponent, not of anything”, Haden said of him. “He’s going to be up there in people’s faces, getting hands on receivers and being very combative, just trying to disrupt. That’s all you can ask for — not being afraid and being confident when you’re in man-to-man coverage”.
He also said that the defensive gameplan for the Patriots is going to be “getting hands on guys”, something Sutton was known for in college. He actually started for an injured Haden last season against the Patriots, and didn’t embarrass himself, but now he will be in the slot rather than on the outside.
The young defensive back has played on both sides on the outside this season as well as in the slot. He has also been used in the dimebacker role in that sub-package. The only spots he hasn’t played in-game yet have been the safety roles, but he has taken practice reps there.
As he continues to bide his time looking for a bigger and more consistent role in the secondary, he said that he “kind of just got to take it for what it is and find the balance in all of it and just work to try to perfect that craft of each of those positions. Obviously, it’s a tough thing to do when you’re bouncing back and forth, but… I like it”.
How much will the Steelers like Sutton in 2019? Will he be able to earn a full-time role heading into his third season? This evening’s game could be something of an audition in that regard.