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’ continued absence from the defense cements him as exclusively a backup depth player in the coaches’ eyes.
Explanation: In spite of the fact that he was a four-year starter at nickel, strong safety, and free safety, Sean Davis, who was brought back after he was cut by Washington before the regular season started, has now seen Justin Layne and Ulysees Gilbert III earn defensive depth roles ahead of him.
Put simply, if they planned on making use of Sean Davis on defense this year, they would have already done it. It’s not like he needed a reorientation program in learning the defense. He has known this defense more intimately and for a longer period of time than all but a few players still on the team.
At this point, it is apparent that, outside of special teams, his only purpose is to be the top backup safety if either Terrell Edmunds or Minkah Fitzpatrick were to miss some time. Otherwise, his job is to play on special teams and to sit on the bench and be there if needed.
That means no niche roles, no sub-package ball. With Mike Hilton out on Sunday, he could have been the dime defender. Instead, they turned to a pair of second-year players, including cornerback Justin Layne, with no prior defensive experience.
When they first re-signed Davis, I thought, great, that’s just another weapon that they can play with, somebody whose talents can be better utilized in a mercenary role. It’s clear now that I overestimated how the Steelers view him.
The defense is still in the process of adjusting to not having Devin Bush. They’ve only played a game and a half without him, and are trying to figure out the best ways of accommodating for his absence. It’s entirely reasonable to believe that, at some point, they will call upon Davis as an option, a still fairly young, athletic safety who nevertheless still has size.
You couldn’t ask for a more experienced backup, either, of course. He’s been with the team for the past four years already and has executed the defense from numerous different positions. Maybe they haven’t felt the need to use him yet, but we have seen niche roles develop over the course of a season before, whether due to injury or simple experimentation as they grow more comfortable. Remember, this was an atypical offseason, making it harder to get things done, so some things will be slower to develop.