You may want to sit down for this, so even though you already read it in the title of the article, I’m going to conclude the opening sentence before the reveal. According to Ray Fittipaldo of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, the Pittsburgh Steelers have been using fourth-year cornerback Artie Burns in the first-team defense during OTAs while Joe Haden was not practicing.
Burns, of course, started for the majority of his first two seasons, entering the lineup at midseason as a rookie in 2016 and then remaining there through all of the following year. Last season, he was demoted to rotational work with Coty Sensabaugh after two games, but was benched after six, and only played a handful of defensive snaps after that. There was one attempt to re-insert him into the starting lineup that was aborted within a few plays.
In a recent chat session, Fittipaldo was asked about Burns’ status with it being widely talked about that he will be due a $800,000 roster bonus within the first few days of the start of training camp. Given that he is being viewed as fighting for perhaps a sixth and final spot at the cornerback position, there are those who rightfully wonder if the Steelers would pay that, given their cap situation, for the opportunity to see him compete.
Fittipaldo wrote that not only have the Steelers not cut the former first-round pick, “he’s been with the first-team defense this spring because Joe Haden missed most of the OTAs”. This is actually a relatively significant development because last season, it was Cameron Sutton who was the next man up.
He started in the Week Two game that Haden missed, for example, though of course Burns was still in the lineup at the time. But after he was benched and Sensabaugh was injured, Sutton came in to replace him.
It would be interesting to see where he lined up, however, because Burns has played consistently on the right side during his career, and Haden starts on the left for the Steelers. Did Burns play on the left? Did Steven Nelson move to the left side to accommodate him?
Outside of Sutton, Burns is the only other cornerback behind the starters that the team has with experience playing outside. Brian Allen, a third-year cornerback, has never gotten into a game on defense before, while Justin Layne is of course a rookie who only played three years of college ball at the position after being recruited, and playing, as a wide receiver.
Burns certainly had a number of ugly miscues in coverage before he was benched—and even gave up a two-point play afterward—but the Steelers still expressed this offseason a willingness and eagerness to see him turn things around, which they chalked up largely to confidence.