The Pittsburgh Steelers’ 2021 season is over, already eliminated from the postseason after suffering a 42-21 loss at the hands of Patrick Mahomes and the Kansas City Chiefs. They just barely made the postseason with a 9-7-1 record and a little help from their friends.
This is an offseason of major change, with the retirement of Ben Roethlisberger, the possible retirement of general manager Kevin Colbert, and the decisions about the futures of many important players to be made, such as Joe Haden, Stephon Tuitt, JuJu Smith-Schuster, and others.
Aside from exploring their options at the quarterback position, the top global priority, once again, figures to be addressing the offensive line, which they did not do quite adequately enough a year ago. Dan Moore Jr. looks like he may have a future as a full-time starter, but Kendrick Green was clearly not ready. Chukwuma Okorafor is heading into free agency, as is Trai Turner.
These are the sorts of topics among many others that we have been exploring on a daily basis and will continue to do so. Football has become a year-round pastime and there is always a question to be asked. There is rarely a concrete answer, but this is your venue for exploring the topics we present through all their uncertainty.
Question: Which cornerback will come off the bench?
The Steelers have, in my opinion, three no. 2 cornerbacks on their roster now, after signing Levi Wallace and retaining Ahkello Witherspoon. They pair with returning Cameron Sutton, entering his sixth season with the team, and the one I’m most confident will be asked to play close to 100 percent of the snaps.
But that is perhaps not written in stone. And the reality is that only two cornerbacks play in base defense. One of the three is going to have to be on the bench for the 25-35 percent of the snaps during which they will have only four defensive backs on the field.
One thing I think we can be more confident in is that Sutton is going to be the slot defender, whether or not he is the nickel defender. In other words, he will be the defensive back who covers the offensive skill player lining up on the inside of the formation, whether he also plays on the outside in base defense or only comes onto the field for sub-packages.
Between Witherspoon and Wallace, the latter has a much more consistent starting resume. He has started every game in which he has played, going back to the middle of his rookie season. Witherspoon has significant starting experience as well, but his role has varied, and has not followed a consistently positive trajectory.
As for Sutton, he was never a stater until this season. He occupied the dime role in 2020 and made many spot starts, including a number of ‘starts’ in the slot, but it wasn’t until this past season that he was a full-time starter. But the Steelers put him in the starting spot because they believed in him, and he did well enough for himself.