The concept of the ‘next man up’ is essential to any joint venture in which the whole is regarded as much greater than the sum of its parts. That applies especially to competitive team sports. Particularly in a league such as the NFL where roster movement is so prominent, frequently through no choice of the team.
The Pittsburgh Steelers have experienced some considerable roster movement in their starting lineup this offseason. Most notably, with two departures in their secondary. Nickel defender Mike Hilton left the team via free agency, while Pittsburgh let outside starter Steven Nelson go as a result of the precipitous drop in the salary cap.
That leaves Cameron Sutton as that next man up. The reality is that, until told otherwise, he will have to be the next man up in both Nelson’s and Hilton’s spots. Something that general manager Kevin Colbert acknowledged earlier today in speaking with Steelers Nation Unite members.
“In being able to have Cam Sutton signed and staying with us, it was very encouraging,” he said in relation to Nelson’s release. “Cam will line up both inside and outside as we try to sort the secondary out.”
A third-round draft choice in 2017, Sutton has made nine starts in his career. Four of them have come in the slot, while five have come on the outside. The majority of that experience — both inside and outside — came just last season due to the lack of availability of Hilton, Nelson, and Joe Haden at different times.
With both Hilton and Nelson gone, Haden and Sutton have to pick up the bulk of the slack. Haden is no stranger to the role, of course, now heading into year 12 with 137 career starts under his belt. Sutton is relatively new to the starting lineup, and has never been the designated starter before.
The issue is that there isn’t much behind him. The entirety of the cornerback depth chart behind the top two names is Justin Layne, James Pierre, Trevor Williams, and Stephen Denmark. Of the four, only Williams has a significant amount of playing experience, and he was a January practice squad addition.
Expect the Steelers to address the cornerback position through the draft in order to add depth. Whether or not they find somebody whom they feel is contributor as a rookie remains to be seen, but the possibility of using a first-round draft pick on the position should not be ruled out as part of the discussion.
Until they find out exactly what they’re working with, however, Sutton will have to move around. Even assuming that one of Pierre or Layne steps up, both profile as outside cornerbacks. When they come on the field in sub-packages, Sutton would be moving from the outside to the inside. Certainly not unprecedented in the NFL, but notable all the same.