The Pittsburgh Steelers are taking a leap of faith in a number of their own players this offseason, believing in them enough to trust that they are capable of taking on larger roles. They allowed other experienced linemen to leave uncontested in free agency, for example, believing that Zach Banner, who has started one game, can be the answer at right tackle.
Another relatively young player to whom they committed this offseason—though not necessarily at the expense of others—is cornerback Cameron Sutton, who before this season has never held a starting job. With Mike Hilton leaving in free agency and Steven Nelson a salary cap casualty, a lot is riding on the fifth-year veteran in stepping up. And he knows he has what it takes.
“You just take it to the next level. I know I have that in me”, he said in a recent interview on SiriusXM. “This is nothing new to me. It’s nothing new that anyone hasn’t seen before. Obviously, it’s just moreso now in a role that I haven’t been in leading up until this point”.
A third-round pick out of Tennessee in 2017, Sutton has spent his first four seasons as a reserve, but has had the opportunity to start at every cornerback position, including dime, over the course of that time. He started a career-high seven games last year, including three on the outside, where he may spend all (or nearly all) of his time this year.
“Now that I am in control of that role and the outlook of that, it’s no turning back”, he said about his long-awaited chance to start full-time. “I’m ready more than ever. I’ve been saying this for the longest. You go through the tricks of the trade throughout the season, and just opportunities and the system of the schematics of the league, and you find your way within that”.
“I was able to, gradually over the years, continue to keep working, well-rounding my game”, he added, “whether it’s inside, outside, continue to get knowledgeable being around veteran DBs and veteran guys who had that overall experience of just being in big games, being in big moments, and things that they’re seeing on the field”.
The Steelers still have Joe Haden on the other side at cornerback opposite Sutton. It remains an ongoing competition to see who will be their nickel. Will it be Antoine Brooks Jr., a second-year safety, who would play in the slot? Could it be James Pierre, another second-year player, who would play outside and push Sutton inside?
Based on OTAs and minicamp reports, those two would seem to be the leading candidates, but there are others, such as Justin Layne and Arthur Maulet, who still have the opportunity to make themselves a factor in the conversation by the time camp breaks.