It won’t be long now before the Pittsburgh Steelers begin rolling into Latrobe, PA to make Saint Vincent College their home away from home for several weeks as the summer winds down. That is when we know that training camp has begun, and with it the first deep breaths of the 2019 NFL season.
Everything that we have experienced up until now, from the re-signings, releases, and trades to the draft and all the way through OTAs and minicamp, has been but a preview, the setup, for what is to come next.
And so we too continue to preview what comes next in a series in which we will highlight several of the battles for roster spots and roles that we expect to see during our time observing in training camp and throughout the preseason.
Up for Grabs: Sub-Package Role
In the Mix: Marcus Allen, Cameron Sutton, Mark Barron, Field
The Steelers know that they did not get what they were hoping to get out of the dimebacker role last season overall. In fact, they have frequently not gotten what they were hoping to get in recent years from the position, or while using the ‘quarter’ defense with that sixth defensive back, usually a third safety.
They are hoping that this year will be different. Nobody will be forced into the role. They have candidates who interest them. Second-year safety Marcus Allen was specifically named as a player head coach Mike Tomlin foresees being a significant competitor seeking to acquire that role.
A fifth-round pick out of Penn State last year, Allen was a virtual non-factor for almost all of his rookie season, but he did play that dimebacker role against the Chargers last year when Morgan Burnett and Cameron Sutton, as well as Nat Berhe, were unavailable. He had mixed success, having more wins in coverage than against the run, especially in the fourth quarter.
Sutton served in that dimebacker role in the earlier portions of the season when Burnett and Berhe were injured, most notably against the Cincinnati Bengals. The third-year cornerback also had mixed success, primarily in coverage, working against tight end C.J. Uzomah, but he was also exposed in situational, short-yardage passing.
The dimebacker this year, however, could be an actual backer in Mark Barron, at least occasionally when the package calls for it. A former safety, he has played the role before and the team understands that there will be a role for him whether he wins a starting job or not.
But the position can also be considered open, for whoever emerges. I wouldn’t rule out Jordan Dangerfield, for example. Somebody like Kameron Kelly could potentially emerge over the course of training camp. If Justin Layne has a great summer and pushes to start—unlikely as that may be—Mike Hilton could even wind up in that role, though that hypothetical would be more realistic in speaking of 2020.