When Mike Tomlin suggested there could be changes on defense for the Pittsburgh Steelers during his weekly press conference on Tuesday, few might have expected that could mean reinserting a player back into the lineup who was effectively benched five weeks ago.
As the coaching staff looks for answers to the secondaries inability to make plays, it would appear they are contemplating a change at nickel corner. While Cameron Sutton was given an opportunity to run with the first team in practice on Wednesday, Mike Hilton was relegated to working with the scout team, a move Sutton confirmed with Ray Fittipaldo of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette later in the day.
“They obviously had me doing a little bit more today, but I don’t know what they’re going to do. I just go out there, when they have me doing the reps, I take them and I just kind of go from there. I always plan like I’ll go out there each and every down. If it doesn’t happen, it doesn’t happen. I’m still prepared. If it does happen, then I’ll be ready to play.”
Despite being an active part of the defensive game plan at the start of the season, the only snaps Sutton has seen since Week 8 have been three plays at the end of the Steelers blowout win over the Carolina Panthers. Through the first seven games of 2018, Sutton saw more than 40 percent of the available snaps on defense each week, but has been limited to special teams since the team returned from the bye.
Presumably considered part of the problem that had led to the Steelers slow start, it is interesting to note they are considering returning to him with the New England Patriots up next the schedule. That being said, even if the coaching staff lost faith in him, Sutton never doubted his own abilities.
“I have confidence in my game. I know I can get the job done. Obviously, we’re not so hot right now. That can change at any time. Once we get that rolling we just have to go from there. Guys are excited and ready to go. We’re at home. At the end of the day, we just have to get the job done.”
Reevaluating what Sutton can offer is far from a bad idea, but it is surprising to see that it came at the expense of Hilton. While no one can dispute that he has been responsible for some blown coverages as of late, it would be unfair to single Hilton out as the weak link in the group. Coty Sensabaugh has barely been an upgrade over Artie Burns and it feels like the next play any of the safeties make this season will be their first. According to Pro Football Focus, Hilton was actually one of Pittsburgh’s better players in their loss to the Raiders.
.@TeamJuJu led all WR's with an overall grade of 92.4 this week!— PFF PIT Steelers (@PFF_Steelers) December 10, 2018
The highest graded #Steelers from yesterday's game were:
JuJu Smith Schuster: 92.4
Alejandro Villanueva: 76.1
David DeCastro: 73.8
T.J. Watt: 90.6
Cameron Heyward: 85.5
Mike Hilton: 80.9
That being said, giving Sutton a chance to play with the first team on Wednesday is still a long way from making him the starter on Sunday. However, should Hilton find himself working with the scout team again on Thursday and Friday, fans might yet see one of those changes Tomlin promised.
Sutton was not the only name seeing some time with the first team at the start of the week either, after Artie Burns also confirmed he had take some reps with the starters.
Will Artie Burns make his return this week? He confirmed he was out there getting first-team reps today. “I don’t know. They called it this morning so I will go with the flow. I really don’t have the details on it.” @TheAthleticPGH— Mark Kaboly (@MarkKaboly) December 13, 2018
But this might be a move too far for some fans given his play in limited snaps just a few weeks ago.