Training camp is finally here, even genuine practices. This is the first time all year that we, and the Pittsburgh Steelers, have had the opportunity to take the field in any capacity, which is an all-important step in the process of evaluating your offseason decisions and beginning to put the puzzle together that will shape the upcoming season.
The Steelers are coming off of an 8-8 season, but while they will default to clichés about how you are what your record says you are, they know they have the potential to be much better. Still, they enter training camp with some questions to answer.
They are no different than any team in the NFL in that regard, in any year. Nobody comes to practice as a finished product. So during this series, we are going to highlight some of the most significant storylines that figure to play out over the course of training camp.
Headline: Establishing the dime defense with Cameron Sutton as the extra defender.
Earlier this week, defensive coordinator Keith Butler seemed to say that the Steelers’ intention is to make use of a fair amount of dime packages this season, telling reporters that Cameron Sutton would be the sixth defensive back and that he was going to “play quite a bit”.
This makes some schematic sense with the losses of Javon Hargrave and Mark Barron making it more palatable to play with six defensive backs on the field when there are obvious passing situations—which, in today’s game, is frequent.
The Steelers have used the dime a lot in the past, especially in 2013, when it was their most-frequently-used personnel group overall. While they prefer to use a third safety as that sixth defensive back, Sutton has been frequently commended for his ability to line up anywhere in the secondary, a sentiment that Butler echoed in his comments.
Entering his fourth season, Sutton knows that this is a big year for him to get some real quality looks on tape. He’s played about 600 defensive snaps across his first three seasons. He’d probably like to get somewhere around 1000 in total by the time he is slated to hit free agency in March.
With Mike Hilton also due to hit free agency, however, it may be the Steelers looking to do everything they can to retain him, keeping him as the nickel defender and as the first man up on the outside—especially if we continue to hear little about Justin Layne.
Obviously there will be situations in which they’ll need heavy sets on the field, but it’s more common than ever for teams to run out of dime packages extensively, even for entire series, something Pittsburgh indeed has done before.
This year, more than any, they have the personnel to run it, with a front four that is more than capable of generating pressure and a quadruplet of cornerbacks who can play in man coverage, with a rangy and intelligent free safety, an athletic middle linebacker…and Terrell Edmunds.