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: Top Backup (Outside)
In the Mix: Artie Burns, Cameron Sutton, Justin Layne
The Steelers went out and got themselves a new starter at cornerback when they signed Steven Nelson to a three-year, $26.5 million contract earlier this offseason. Nelson is expected to pair up with Joe Haden as the two starters on the outside, with Mike Hilton in the slot.
Hilton is in effect the number three cornerback, but unlike others in the past, such as William Gay, is not viewed as a factor on the outside. That means that there has to be another cornerback who is able to come in and play on the outside if an injury arises, and this year, there figure to be three primary candidates, though the field could be considered fairly open.
We’ll start with the man who entered the two previous seasons as the starting right outside cornerback, that back 2016 first-round pick Artie Burns. He has gone downhill during that time, including a demotion after two games and a benching after six in 2018, but he remains with the team and as much in the mix as anybody else.
After he was benched for good, though, it was Cameron Sutton who was given the opportunity to come off the bench when an injury arose last season. Sutton is heading into his third season now and the Steelers would really like to see him take a meaningful step forward this year. He is probably the most likely candidate to be the number two slot cornerback as well.
Then there is rookie third-round pick Justin Layne. Many view him as somewhat raw, but I wouldn’t rule him out of the running. One of the things that he did best in college was keep plays in front of him, and he did make a lot of plays on the football in the past couple of seasons, even if he didn’t rack up the interceptions.
These are the main contenders, but I think the apparent quality of competition is at such a level as to say there’s reason not to rule out the emergence of a surprise candidate, such as Brian Allen or Kameron Kelly. There isn’t a lot of confidence right now in any of the three players previously named to step out on the field and perform at a high level.