The Pittsburgh Steelers are now training camp, following the most unique offseason in the NFL since at least World War II. While it didn’t involve a player lockout, teams still did not have physical access to their players, though they were at least able to meet with them virtually.
Even training camp will look much different from the norm, and a big part of that will be the fact that there will be no games along the way to prepare for. There will be no preseason played in 2020, so the first time the Steelers take the field in 2020 will be for the season opener against the New York Giants.
Before we get there, however, there are a number of issues that are outstanding on this team, and this year’s edition of training camp will not provide the level of thoroughness that teams are normally used to in trying to answer those questions.
Questions like, what is the starting offensive line going to look like? Will it include Zach Banner or Chukwuma Okorafor? Who will be the primary nose tackle? How will Ben Roethlisberger look—and the other quarterbacks as well? Now, we even have questions about whether or not players will be in quarantine.
These are the sorts of questions among many others that we have been exploring on a daily basis and will continue to do so. Football has become a year-round pastime and there is always a question to be asked, though there is rarely a concrete answer, as I’ve learned in my years of doing this.
Question: Is Justin Layne due for another redshirt season?
The Steelers knew that they would be giving Justin Layne some time in their system before they would put him out on the field defensively. Though he was a third-round draft pick last year, he was also young and new not just to the cornerback position, but to playing defense, period.
And so he sat on the bench for half of his rookie season, then in the other half carved out a role on special teams. As he enters the 2020 season, the same four players still remain ahead of him on the depth chart, with starters Joe Haden and Steven Nelson, and Mike Hilton in the slot, Cameron Sutton ready to fill in at any position behind them.
Now, as of this writing, he is still on the reserve/Covid-19 list as actual practices are set to begin later this week. He has already gone through the Spring without any practice time—as did everybody else, of course, but it’s most impactful on the inexperienced.
It’s hard to see a path for playing time for Layne barring injury or illness. I’m not sure that there would have been any reason to expect differently back in February. But with both Hilton and Sutton hitting free agency next year, the team will be looking to him in 2021, counting on his readiness to play, somewhere, even as a top reserve.