As we’ve done for the past couple years, and with training camp right around the corner, we’re giving a preview of what to watch for from each position group when the Pittsburgh Steelers hit Latrobe. Matthew Marczi has reviewed the additions and subtractions of each unit but this post is for what I’m specifically looking for from each player during camp.
Checking out the secondary. Starting with the cornerbacks.
Joe Haden: Not much to note with him on the field though there’s a reasonable chance he gets a contract extension off of it. Last year let him go through the entire offseason process with the Steelers so that won’t be new to him. Another guy where the only box he needs to check is “staying healthy.” He’ll also serve as a mentor to a relatively new and green cornerback room, too.
Steven Nelson: It’ll be cool to see him in a Steelers’ uniform and hopefully he can carry over last year’s success. Looking for more consistency, not getting beat downfield like he did too often last year. Coming off a four interception season, something no one on the Steelers’ defense have done since 2010 (the longest streak in NFL history), snagging a couple picks in camp would be nice too. But we know that number doesn’t always translate.
Will he play any in the slot? Signed to be the RCB but he’s capable of moving around. And if Haden is going to travel and shadow, Nelson should get some work at LCB as well.
Mike Hilton: Hilton’s camps are always really good. Just happy he’s healthy this year. Should see a much better version of himself than most of last season. Beyond that, don’t have a lot to say. I’m fine with him not getting snaps at safety like the couple of reps last year. Not interested in moving him mid-game. Let a backup do it.
Justin Layne: Here’s a guy that we’re going to learn a ton about. Another “developmental” prospect that hasn’t worked out well in the past but it’s unfair to hold that against him and the new faces in the secondary (Tom Bradley in his 2nd year, Teryl Austin in his first).
My biggest concern with Layne was the combination of average long speed and hip tightness/stiffness in his turn. Does that look any better in the NFL? Not something that’s going to radically change but there are aspects of technique that can be improved. So seeing how he handles vertical concepts is going to be big.
Layne does well in closed-quarters but I want to see him in off man. Ability to read the route, drive on the ball, or turn his hips before the receiver eats up his cushion. He needs to play as well at the catch point as he did at Michigan State.
In-game, he should see a lot of action on special teams there. Once the season starts, that’s where the bulk of his role will lie.
Cam Sutton: Team needs to figure out to do with him. More time that goes by, more players they add, the more I feel he’s going to turn into the Swiss Army Knife. Not a starter, just filling in wherever he’s needed. Backup slot corner, can play on the outside, emergency safety. Third year of his career and it feels make or break for him. He’s almost certain to make the roster but the train is leaving the station.
Still think he’s best on the outside. But in the slot, want to see him do a better job pressing and defending breaking routes.
Artie Burns: Wow, where to begin. First, we gotta make sure he gets through camp. There’s still a hefty $800K roster bonus due on the third day of training camp. I believe the team is going to keep him though it’s no guarantee. Last year, he showed no confidence in his technique and so clearly didn’t trust what he saw. He has to reverse that or he’s got no shot. There’s still ability there, I don’t deny that, but the mental side has to catch up.
To his credit, his training camps have been normally good. Assuming he’s kept, I think he’ll play well enough. It just hasn’t translated.
Herb Waters: Former WR signed mid-way last year to the practice squad before being signed to a futures deal when the season ended. Can he show off that receiver background? Potential for a sleeper candidate but making some splash is usually required for guys in his spot to stand out and receive more reps. Even then, it’s not a guarantee. Kevin Fogg picked off a ton of passes a few years ago and still failed to stick.
Alexander Myres: UDFA signed out of Houston following the draft. Profiles with some physicality and top level special teams ability. Good niche to have if you want to land on the roster. Might be the new Anthony Madison? But will have to show the kinda-crazy attitude needed to be an effective coverage player. Is he athletic enough to survive man-to-man?