In the Pittsburgh Steelers’ base defense, Cam Sutton’s spot is obvious. He’s the starting right corner, replacing the released Steven Nelson. But when the team uses its nickel and dime defense, as it does roughly 60-70% of the time? Sutton isn’t sure where the Steelers will play him.
Speaking with reporters Wednesday, Sutton talked about his 2021 role with the team.
“Obviously with the offseason right now, a lot of things are up in the air,” he said via a Zoom call provided by the team. “As the weeks are in itself. Each week is a week and a life in its own. Wherever the chips may fall, as far as my responsibility, there’s obviously times throughout the game where guys are lined up in certain positions. But things happen between shifts, change motions, injuries. So guys gotta be able to play interchange and play different roles.”
Sutton has the versatility to line up all over the field. That isn’t the issue. He’s played essentially every spot in the secondary, a level of flexibility most teams don’t have. But how much of that he can show this year will be dependent on the guys around him. Especially the young players.
If third-year corner Justin Layne or second-year corner James Pierre can prove themselves, they could play right cornerback in sub-packages, allowing Sutton to slide to the slot. If they can’t, the team may opt to keep Sutton on the outside and turn to someone else to play the nickel. Exactly who that man will be is another unknown. It could be veteran Arthur Maulet or perhaps one of the team’s undrafted free agents, like Michigan State’s Shakur Brown, climbs the ladder this summer.
Sutton knows his role will be defined by what his teammates are capable of doing.
“So I don’t know what their role [and if I’ll play outside or inside]. I just come here each and every day with my head down, like I said, let the chips fall where they may.”
Pittsburgh’s secondary has more questions in 2021 than it has had the previous two seasons. The secondary started to come together in 2019 and was capped off by the acquisition of Minkah Fitzpatrick, the final piece of the room that turned them into an elite unit. Every key piece returned for 2020, giving the Steelers one of the deepest and most talented defensive back rooms in football.
But with Mike Hilton off to Cincinnati and Nelson’s surprising removal, this group is in flux, primarily at cornerback. That’s just focusing on starters, not even considering depth for when injuries inevitably occur. Depth at safety behind Fitzpatrick and Terrell Edmunds is thin.
It’s one of many new questions the Steelers will have to answer this season after experiencing an offseason that saw them lose several starters on both sides of the football.