What a long, strange trip it’s been...
These aren’t just lyrics from The Grateful Dead, but also could be a great way to describe the play of Pittsburgh Steelers’ cornerback Artie Burns. A surprise first round draft pick in 2016, Burns came onto the scene as a raw talent who could be just what the Steelers needed to run more man-coverage schemes.
After an up-and-down rookie campaign, Burns dedicated himself to covering Antonio Brown every chance he got during training camp. He lost way more than he won, but it developed a confidence, or a swagger, which translated onto the field. Burns’ sophomore season was much more productive than his rookie year, and heading into year three, fans were expecting great things.
What they’ve received is a player who has become mentally fragile, and has also a liability on the football field.
How did this happen? What is going wrong for Burns to take a step backwards in his development?
It is likely the only people who can answer this question are those who are in the locker room every day and see Burns competing. Otherwise, it just seems as if Burns is struggling to keep it together after being demoted from starter to ‘split starter’ with Coty Sensabaugh, and most recently was benched in crunch time in the Week 6 win over the Cincinnati Bengals.
Per the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review’s Joe Rutter, this was Burns’ dialogue with reporters on Tuesday before the team jettisoned on their week off:
Q: How’s your confidence level?
Q: Does the bye come at a good time?
“Yeah, that’s great.”
Q: Were you upset by the benching?
“No, it’s their decision.”
Q: Was it a proper one?
“It’s their decision.”
Dejected much? Burns is in a bad place, both physically and mentally, but the Steelers cannot give up on Burns — not yet.
It will be up to coach Tom Bradley, and his teammates, to rally around Burns and help him get back to the upward trajectory he found himself on heading into 2018. If they can do this, a confident Burns brings a new dynamic to a defense opposite Joe Haden.
“I think Artie has to play more consistent,” first year secondary coach Tom Bradley said. “He knows that. A lot of times you have to make sure you concentrate on every play and try to get all the things right: just all the little things, and we will get that together this week.”
Are Burns’ problems physical, or mental? Try both.
“It’s always a little bit of both as you get out there,” Bradley said. “Playing corner is a little different. Confidence has a shelf life that needs to be replenished. But he’ll be fine.”
The confidence in Burns doesn’t stop at the coaching staff. His teammates still believe he can be a playmaker for the defense.
“He has so much ability, so much talent,” Haden said. “It’s just that the corner position is a tough one. We are out there on an island. You just have to be mentally strong, head strong. … Just have a short-term memory and get back out there and make your plays.
“It’s a tough position to be in, but for Artie, he believes in his ability and he has pretty good ability. Just continue to practice hard, continue to just build up your confidence until it can transfer over into the game.”
“I try to keep his head up, let him know that we’re here for him for whatever he needs,” Haden said. “From me, studying-wise, tape-wise, I’m here. I let him know, ‘Artie, you’re nice, you got the ability to be a shutdown corner.’ ”
The fact remains, Burns has had some miserable games so far this year, which has ultimately led to his demise, from a mental standpoint.
“I think it’s a couple things that have happened along the way,” Bradley said. “We had some bad luck in some different situations, but I think we will be able to work it all out. A lot of times I think he gets some things that happen at inopportune times to him.”
Will the Steelers be benching Burns for good anytime soon? Don’t count on it...
“We’ll get him going here,” Bradley said. “I’m not worried about Artie now.”
Consider Burns’ regaining his form, and confidence as a huge bullet point on the Steelers’ bye week to-do list, but as Joe Haden points out...the bye week is good for everyone.
“The break is good for everybody,” Haden said. “It’s good to get away from it for a second.”
Hopefully Artie Burns returns with a new sense of meaning, confidence and swagger and is ready to be a part of this team heading into the second half of the season.