For any rookie, it’s fair to have that “deer in the headlights” moment. The one where you realize you aren’t in college anymore. No one is going to their accounting class after practice. You’re facing players who live, breathe, and sleep football, and they’re the best in the world. For 3rd round corner Justin Layne, that moment’s come and gone.
“It’s crazy at first but at the same time, you gotta get out here and work,” he told reporters during OTAs via the team website. “The first couple days, it was like ‘aw shoot,’ but I mean, they’re just regular people now. Just like back in college.”
Layne’s adjustment to the NFL is big in a couple ways. Obviously, the natural transition that any player will experience, even the top players in the draft. The game is faster, more intricate, with less margin for era and tolerance from the coaching staff. There are no plays to be taken off as there might be in college when Sparty played Bowling Green or Rutgers.
And for him personally, he’s a raw corner after making the transition from receiver. In some ways, that helps, knowing how receivers operate and what offenses like to do, but his game will have to become more refined to stick in the NFL.
Facing the likes of JuJu Smith-Schuster and Donte Moncrief will only accelerate his game. Iron sharpens iron, the saying goes. Much better to take your lumps on the practice field, learn from mistakes, and be better prepared for when the games start to count.
Of course, we thought the same thing with Artie Burns. In camp, he had great battles with Antonio Brown. Two years ago, Burns was the only corner who could even slow Brown down. Here’s what we wrote at the time.
“– Final AB vs Artie Burns stats.
AB vs Artie Burns: 18/38 (47.4%) 2 TDs
AB vs anyone else: 19/27 (70.4%) 7 TDs
Burns was the only guy to slow Brown down. Since 2014, Brown’s catch percentage has never been below 63.3%. Last year, it was 74.6. This year, because of Burns? 56.9.”
Unfortunately, it never translated to on-field production. Layne will have to avoid a similar fate. He’ll also have to look at intercepting a few of his pass breakups. In college, he deflected an impressive 24 passes. But he intercepted just three, one every season. For a Steelers’ secondary starving for splash plays, that won’t be good enough.