One of the qualities that the Pittsburgh Steelers frequently mentioned as having been drawn to after drafting cornerback Cameron Sutton out of Tennessee in 2017 was his willingness and ability to learn the entire defense.
It might not seem overly useful for a cornerback to know the nuances of what the far-side defensive end is going to be asked to do on a given play, but Sutton doesn’t see it that way. It’s a topic he’s touched on in interviews in the past, but he explained in a little more detail with Dale Lolley for the team’s website why he prides himself in knowing these things.
“That’s just having each other’s backs, that real brotherhood, wanting the best success not just for yourself”, he said, via Steelers.com, making reference to collective success. “Being able to put a guy in the right spot or remind him of something I’ve seen on the film that he might not have seen just because of his position”.
“Being able to tell him, ‘Hey, put your inside foot up on your drop instead of your outside foot so it gives you a better angle’”, he added, “that small, tiny little detail like that is a split difference between him tipping a pass and him intercepting a pass”.
While he was referring here to explaining to another defensive back how to set up, it could apply equally to a linebacker or a defensive lineman. If he saw something on tape that could help Cameron Heyward shoot a gap on a play, he’ll let him know, or at least try to.
Sutton talked about “seeing the game in a rewarding way”, which has multiple meanings. The reward is, of course, the success achieved through executing what you learned in the classroom and making plays, but it’s also the process of forging that brotherhood, which builds a stronger and more cohesive unit overall.
Make no mistake, his approach is far from the norm. Not every cornerback is going to know the details of everybody else’s assignments, especially not at that particular outside position, where so often what he is asked to do can seem virtually independent of what’s going on with his 10 teammates on the field with him.
The bottom line is that it doesn’t matter who is making the plays on your defense as long as somebody is making them, because only one player needs to get the job done at a time. If your insight allows somebody else to get a sack or an interception or simply stop a third-down conversion, then you’ve won.