The Pittsburgh Steelers have a couple of young cornerbacks on their roster in Justin Layne, a 23-year-old former third-round draft pick in 2019, and James Pierre, who is actually older at 24, undrafted last year out of Florida Atlantic.
Ordinarily, we wouldn’t be talking about them much, but the reality is that at least one of them could play a big role defensively this season, with the departures of starting cornerbacks Steven Nelson, who as a cap casualty, and slot defender Mike Hilton, who left in free agency.
Layne didn’t play on defense as a rookie, but got onto the field when there were injuries last season as a dime defender, amounting to 117 snaps. Yet in the final two games of the season, when Joe Haden was sidelined with Covid-19, it was Pierre who played the larger role.
Cameron Sutton was asked about why that change was made late in the year when he spoke to reporters soon after signing his new two-year contract, during which he is expected to enter the starting lineup. He knows about as much as we do, apparently.
“I don’t know what changed in that scenario. Obviously, that’s above my pay grade. I line up and go to battle for whoever’s out there”, he said in the Zoom interview provided to us. “I don’t care who’s to the left of me. At the end of the day, we’re a team, and there’s no animosity, there’s no hate in between the guys that are up for whatever it is. That’s just our bond and how close we are”.
Of course, having a bond doesn’t always mean harmony. As you might recall, in the regular season finale, defensive linemen Carlos Davis and Isaiah Buggs got into a bit of a shoving match on the sideline, and this was almost assuredly related to playing time as the two battled for a helmet throughout the year. But that’s competition for you, even with your brothers.
“Just the situation, like I said, it’s guys stepping into opportunities and maximizing the opportunity, making the most of it, and making it really count”, Sutton said. “Just going forward for those guys, coming into the season, they’re gonna have an opportunity to battle and compete”.
If the Steelers don’t do much to address the cornerback position between now and the start of the regular season, then, well, chances are good that they’re going to have no choice but to count on at least one of Layne and Pierre to be on the field.
Perhaps it comes down to that, and perhaps they prove themselves worthy. Perhaps they even earn the right in the first place without it being handed to them. Both of them have some physical gifts that suggests they can be capable. Wouldn’t that be nice after years of struggling to scout the position.