One of the qualities that drew the Pittsburgh Steelers to Cameron Sutton in the run-up to the 2017 NFL Draft was because he was known to be an intelligent football player. Even at the college level, he said that he prided himself on knowing not just his assignment on any given play, but the assignment of everybody else on the field with him.
So the fact that he has had the opportunity and the ability to display his versatility in the secondary is no surprise. Over the course of his first three offseasons, he has played essentially every position in the defensive backfield at some point or another, even if it is simply in practice.
For the moment, his most likely primary role appears to be as the dime backer, the sixth defensive back on the field. This is a role that he served a bit last season when Morgan Burnett was injured, despite the fact that the team has historically preferred to use a third safety in that role.
Head Coach Mike Tomlin addressed Sutton and his ability to play both inside and outside at the cornerback position yesterday prior to the game, and I thought it was a comment worth touching on. “Cam’s got a very balanced skill set, and it’s on display when he’s able to play outside and inside”, he said, after explaining some of the differences involved in playing at each spot.
Sutton started the first preseason game on the outside on the right, with Joe Haden, Steven Nelson, Artie Burns, and Brian Allen all not playing. He has started a couple of games there in his career, most notably against the New England Patriots during his rookie season.
“The outside corner position is much more technical in its demands, in terms of hand usage and footwork and the techniques of play”, Tomlin said of that role. Sutton is also known to be a player who is conscientious of the fundamentals, which at the college level, and so far this offseason, have helped him be consistently close to the ball.
“The interior play is more communicative and more awareness based, more vision based”, he said of the slot defender role. “There’s more physicality inside because of their inclusion in the run game”.
Sutton has previously been shaky with respect to his physicality, but observers such as Alex Kozora have commented upon him with respect to an improvement in this area. He has been a contributor in the run game in a positive way during camp, and in his third year, has been a good communicator as well.
While this is not a contract year, 2019 is still a bit one for Sutton as he looks to establish a role for himself. Playing behind Haden and Nelson, with Mike Hilton in the slot, limits the chances of upward mobility, but continued work and dedication may ultimately be rewarded in the long run.