When you think about the Pittsburgh Steelers’ defensive secondary, the theme in 2018 might just be versatility. For the first time in many moons, the Steelers have a very solid group of defenders in the back half of their defense, and players who can handle multiple positions.
Sure, you have players like Artie Burns and Joe Haden, who are primarily cornerbacks thriving on the outside, but the rest of the group is more than position flexible.
Sean Davis, who played Strong Safety during his first two seasons in the NFL, is the likely choice to switch to Free Safety this year — but he also has plenty of experience covering the slot. Recently acquired veteran safety Morgan Burnett can also play both safety positions, cover the slot and is one of the league’s better in-the-box safeties.
Mike Hilton showed what he’s capable of in 2017, and this included being everywhere on the field before the snap. One player who also has a tremendous amount of versatility to his game is second-year pro Cameron Sutton. The former Tennessee Volunteer can play on the outside, and he might push Burns for a starting position this year. He also could cover the slot and take over the William Gay role in the dime defensive package, or perhaps move to safety if need be.
As for Sutton, he’s willing to do whatever it takes to see the playing field more often.
“I’m open to anything,” Sutton told Joe Rutter of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review during organized team activities.
During offseason workouts, Sutton was moved to the safety position on occasion, but he realizes it’s just to get him some experience at the position.
“It was more for my development,” Sutton said, “showing my versatility that I can play the position. I think they see that because they trusted me to put me back there. I have a great understanding of the defense, and I think it opens up more opportunities for me.”
The next logical question becomes exactly how this might work given the sudden plethora of safeties the team has on its roster. Not only do they have Burnett and Davis, but also two draft picks in Terrell Edmunds and Marcus Allen. It seems highly unlikely Sutton would unseat one of the aforementioned players, but then again, you never know.
“I’ve been moving around a little bit, and it’s giving me a lot of opportunity,” Sutton said. “I’m trying to expand and keep building on what I learned last year. The more opportunities and reps I get, I can capitalize on them and make plays on the ball. That’s what it comes down to.”
Steelers fans might be wondering just what this defense is going to look like in 2018. To be honest, not many know for sure. The team is stacked with defensive backs, but lacks interior linebackers alongside Vince Williams. Will the Steelers try to re-invent the wheel and throw out a multitude of defensive backs of all shapes and sizes at different positions? Or will it be more of the same from past years under Keith Butler?
That’s up for debate, but how Butler feels about Sutton isn’t — it’s well known he thinks highly of the second-year pro.
“He’s a very sharp young man,” Butler said. “He picks up stuff well. He’s very situationally aware. He’s still got a lot to learn, but we like what we’ve seen of him.”
So, with the Steelers set to report to training camp on July 25th, Butler, Sutton and the defense are preparing themselves for anything and everything.
“We have a lot of versatile guys,” he said. “Our whole room isn’t just based upon playing one position. There are times a guy has to play the high hole or the corner or in the box. I don’t think anyone limits themselves on saying I play one position.
“That’s good for our defense.”
Will this result in more playing time for Sutton, or translate to overall improvement on the defensive side of the football? Only time will answer that question.