Among the almost double-digit names contending for spots on the Steelers’ roster at slot and outside cornerback as well as safety, few are as high-profile or polarizing as Justin Layne. The Michigan State product is the highest-drafted of the competing names, arriving in the third round of the 2019 draft. He is also polarizing given his raw talent that got him drafted so high, but his inability to live up to that pick thus far.
Facing potentially his final chance to make the 53-man roster this season, Layne has made some big plays in camp and the preseason, including forcing a pair of turnovers. Despite the heavy competition he faces, he has at least one person who has been impressed so far: Head coach Mike Tomlin, who complimented Layne during a media session Thursday morning.
“It’s just a component of it, obviously it’s a big component of it. Getting the football is big, not only for individuals, but for defensive units,” Tomlin said, of Layne’s turnovers. “He’s done a nice job in terms of working to improve his skill over this process and inconsistency in his play, and he’ll have an opportunity Saturday night and next week to add to that. And it’s reasonable to expect him to continue to have an upward trajectory in terms of the quality of play.”
Layne’s big moments have come first from a forced fumble made against the Dallas Cowboys in the Hall of Fame game (staying with the play and recovering from allowing the initial completion), and then an interception against the Eagles last Thursday. He has also made six tackles.
In coverage, Layne has one penalty, and has allowed five catches across a team-high eight times targeted. His 62.5 completions allowed percentage ranks him in the middle of the team. Better than fellow competitors Donovan Stiner and Miles Killebrew, but worse than others like Shakur Brown, Mark Gilbert, and James Pierre (though none have been targeted as frequently).
He is still far from a lock for a roster spot, particularly with players like Gilbert, Pierre, Antoine Brooks, and recent signing Lafayette Pitts also putting together strong camps. As Tomlin said, with camp wrapped up, Layne’s path to a roster spot will depend on some more big plays and even some turnovers in the final two preseason games, first against Detroit on Saturday, and then next Friday against the Carolina Panthers.