The Pittsburgh Steelers’ 2020 season is now in the books. It ended in spectacular fashion — though the wrong kind of spectacular — in a dismal postseason defeat at the hands of the Cleveland Browns, sending them into an early offseason mode after going 12-4 in the regular season and winning the AFC North for the first time in three years.
Since then, they have lost several players in free agency who were key members of the offense and defense. Multiple starters retired, as well. They made few notable additions in free agency, and are banking on contributions on offense from their rookies, as well as perhaps a last ride for Ben Roethlisberger.
The only thing facing them now as they head into 2021 is more questions. Right now, they lack answers. They know that they have Roethlisberger for one more year, but was that even the right decision? How successful can Najee Harris be behind a questionable offensive line? What kind of changes can Matt Canada and Adrian Klemm bring to the offense? And how can the defense retain the status quo with the losses of Bud Dupree, Steven Nelson, and Mike Hilton?
These are the sorts of questions we have been exploring on a daily basis and will continue to do so. Football is a year-round pastime and there are always questions to ask, though there is rarely a concrete answer. This is your venue for exploring the topics we present through all of their uncertainty.
Question: Will Justin Layne make the 53-man roster?
It’s getting to the point where it feels as though Justin Layne is the only cornerback in training camp who isn’t being talked about for making plays, and that’s not great, given that they used a third-round draft pick on him not so long ago, in 2019.
An underclassman out of Michigan State who never played on defense before getting to college, Layne was seen as a bit of a project with huge upside, but heading into year three, the Steelers are still waiting for that upside to kick in.
But they are not swimming in depth in the secondary, either, and it’s also important to stress that we haven’t even gotten to the preseason yet. If he steps up and plays well inside of stadiums—and on special teams—that’s where it’s going to count the most.
So far, the top four cornerback positions seem secure with Joe Haden, Cameron Sutton, Antoine Brooks Jr. in the slot, and James Pierre. Behind them, you have Arthur Maulet. Who’s left? Stephen Denmark has made a few plays here and there, but has a long way to go to prove himself.
We’re still waiting to hear more from Shakur Brown and Mark Gilbert, a couple of rookie college free agents, who haven’t gotten much playing time yet. Still, it feels like there will still be a roster spot available for Layne when all is said and done, provided that he does enough to earn it.