Now that training camp is underway, and the roster for the offseason is close to finalized—though always fluid—it’s time to take stock of where the Pittsburgh Steelers stand. Specifically where Steelers players stand individually based on what we have seen happen over the course of the past few months.
A stock evaluation can take a couple of different approaches and I’ll try to make clear my reasonings. In some cases it will be based on more long-term trends, such as an accumulation of offseason activity. In other instances it will be a direct response to something that just happened. So we can see a player more than once over the course of the summer as we move forward.
Player: CB Artie Burns
Stock Value: Up
Pardon me while I sidestep for a moment to dodge a barrage of rotting fruit, but fourth-year cornerback Artie Burns, who started at left cornerback in Saturday’s game against the Kansas City Chiefs with Joe Haden not playing, turned in another solid effort. That’s a positive no matter how you want to spin it.
But there is some spin, because we know Burns’ history. He tends to do well in training camp and put in solid performances during the preseason. He did that last year, but that didn’t stop him from looking lost and lacking confidence through much of his playing time on the first during the regular season.
Then again, he wouldn’t be the first cornerback who was sat down only to regain his form and even take it to another level the following year. Fortunately for the Steelers, they’re not actually relying on Burns to play any kind of role this season, outside perhaps of gunner, jammer, and/or coverage on kickoffs and on the field goal blocking unit.
Barring injuries, anyway. It’s possible that he is the next man up at cornerback, starting if anybody goes down. He would play on the outside, but even if Mike Hilton in the slot is injured, that may prompt the team to move Steven Nelson inside and play Burns outside.
Defensive coordinator Keith Butler has already said that there will be packages in which Nelson is playing in the slot. Head Coach Mike Tomlin talked up his slot ability after he was originally signed. So it wouldn’t be an issue of moving two pieces to fix one problem, because he’ll have been playing in the slot already.
Still, Burns will have to contend with Cameron Sutton for playing time, I think. It appears likely that he makes the roster, but Sutton has been having his best camp so far and could vie for that next-man-up role, or at the very least be the second-string nickel defender inside.
But you know what? It’s a good problem to have for a change.