The offseason is inevitably a period of projection and speculation, which makes it the ideal time to ponder the hypotheticals that the Pittsburgh Steelers will face over the course of the next year, whether it is addressing free agency, the draft, performance on the field, or some more ephemeral topic.
That is what I will look to address in our Buy or Sell series. In each installment, I will introduce a topic statement and weigh some of the arguments for either buying it (meaning that you agree with it or expect it to be true) or selling it (meaning you disagree with it or expect it to be false).
The range of topics will be intentionally wide, from the general to the specific, from the immediate to that in the far future. And as we all tend to have an opinion on just about everything, I invite you to share your own each morning on the topic statement of the day.
Topic Statement: Sean Davis will play on defense in sub-packages this season.
Explanation: Even though the Steelers just brought him back, Sean Davis is very familiar with the team’s defense, having spent four years in it, and they haven’t been shy about quickly getting defensive backs on the field after signing them in the past.
Minkah Fitzpatrick was their starting free safety on a full-time basis days after signing. Joe Haden was signed at the end of August in 2017 and was a full-time starter. The team traded for J.J. Wilcox a few years back late in August and he, too, was on the field immediately. Adding Ross Cockrell, who played 39 snaps by Week Two in 2015 after being claimed off waivers.
None of these players had any experience in the Steelers’ system before signing or otherwise being acquired. In Cockrell’s case, he had very little prior experience. Fitzpatrick himself was only in year two, even though he had been a starter.
We know Davis has had plenty of starts for the Steelers and at three different positions. They can fit him anywhere. The team also has a preference for using safeties as their sixth defensive back, from Tyrone Carter to Robert Golden. These third safeties are often versatile players, but Davis fits that mold as well.
It’s all well and good that Davis is a capable player in the system, despite just being brought in. But the bottom line is that the Steelers have been working Cameron Sutton into the dime role all offseason. Defensive coordinator Keith Butler said that Sutton is going to be playing quite a bit this year. And Sutton is also a versatile defensive back.
Add onto that the fact that when Tomlin talked about reacquiring Davis yesterday, he highlighted his special teams contributions rather than his defensive contributions. He is still going to be the top backup safety, but barring injury, it’s quite possible that he’s not going to be given a designated niche role within the defense just to get him on the field.