When the offense stalled and the Pittsburgh Steelers had to punt the football back to Philip Rivers and the Los Angeles Chargers in the waning minutes of their most recent game, the starting cornerbacks on the field at that point were Artie Burns and Cameron Sutton.
Burns started that game as an injury replacement for Steven Nelson, who did not travel with the team at all even though he was listed as questionable to play. It was his first defensive action of the season. Joe Haden had to leave the game late with an injury, moving Sutton from the dime role to boundary cornerback. The latter, of course, delivering the game-sealing interception.
As we get back to football after the bye week, Sutton will return to his sub-package status, while Burns will go back to the bench, seeing time only on special teams. But that is not an indictment of the way the coaching staff views his performance.
“I was expecting him to play well, and I got what I expected”, said senior defensive assistant Teryl Austin, who works with the secondary, via Brian Batko of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. “He’s practiced well all season. Never complained about his lot in life. Just came out and worked, and he’s gotten better and better and better”.
As you surely know, Burns was the Steelers’ first-round draft pick in 2016. He began his career as the dime back, moving to nickel by the fifth game, and entered the starting lineup halfway through his rookie year. He remained there until the third game of his third season, last year, when he was demoted into a rotation with Coty Sensabaugh. He was benched after Week Six.
Since then, he has had to fight just to stay on the team. There were major questions from the outside as to whether or not the Steelers would even carry him into training camp, as he would be due a roster bonus early on, just to allow him the opportunity to compete for a job.
But the Steelers have been consistently pleased and consistently complimentary of the work he has put in throughout the offseason, and Austin followed suit in his first season working with him. “Obviously, he’s got ability”, he said. “He’s a first-round corner, so he’s got the ability you want. It was a matter of him just putting all that stuff together. I had not one worry about putting him in the game”.
But when will he ever get back on the field? That’s the question. Unless there is another injury, it doesn’t seem likely that he will find any other role. In what is almost surely his last season with the team—and Sean Davis’, as well—we are surely living the waning moments of another disappointing first-round pick. It’s nice and all that he could do okay as an injury fill-in, but he was supposed to be a 10-year starter. He didn’t even make it two full seasons.