Artie Burns saw his first action of the 2019 season on Saturday night. Written off by many, Burns has been speculated by many in Steelers’ Nation as a player who could be traded or even released before the start of the season. The reports from training camp were positive with many in attendance giving Burns praise for his work during practice. After a lackluster performance from rookie Justin Layne the previous week when Burns was out due to injury, Artie managed to still be in the discussion in regards to the cornerback depth chart.
Against the Chiefs, Burns turned in the solid performance Steelers fans had hoped to see for some time. A player who struggled with tackling in 2018, Burns made a decent play on Tyreek Hill early in the game.
Nice open field tackle by Artie Burns on Tyreek Hill. #Steelers— BTSC Steelers (@btsteelcurtain) August 18, 2019
It was believed that Burns also forced a fumble in the first quarter, but upon further inspection it was Terrell Edmunds who punched the ball out. Regardless, Burns made a nice tackle to give Edmunds the opportunity to make the play as the ball carrier was going to the ground. In the second quarter, Burns got his hands on the ball to knock down a pass.
After the Steelers 17-7 victory, many gave Artie Burns kudos for his play. While it wasn’t necessarily a “coming out party,” especially since it’s only the preseason, any positive play from Burns would be an improvement from last year. Some fans are frustrated because of his high draft status and would prefer to just cut ties with the 2016 first-round pick. Others are touched by Burns’ story and want nothing more to see him succeed. An article earlier this month by ESPN’s Jeremy Fowler outlined the tragedy of Artie losing his mother to a heart attack in 2015 and taking on the responsibility of raising his two younger brothers. Burns’ father has been incarcerated since 2006, leaving Artie as the sole provider for his 19 and 16 year-old brothers.
So when it comes to his play on the field in 2019, many are wondering what could have changed in Burns so far this season. Burns usually had good reports from training camp in years past, and his preseason play has always seemed to be at an acceptable level. So should we expect a new and improved Artie Burns, or will it be the same disappointment we experienced in 2018? I’m going to offer up two possible explanations for each outcome.
Why Artie Burns will be improved in 2019
A sense of urgency coupled with lower expectations.
With Burns not being given his fifth-year option, it should be a wake-up call for the young corner. The only other first round selection of the Steelers to not get their option picked up since it was implemented with the new Collective Bargaining Agreement in 2012 was 2013 first-round pick Jarvis Jones. After his four seasons with the Steelers, Jones signed with the Arizona Cardnals but never played another regular season football game in the NFL.
With Burns knowing this could be his last chance in NFL, the sense of urgency may have elevated his play. Throw in the fact the Steelers signed Steven Nelson during the offseason which pushed Burn’s down the depth chart, the lowered expectations may have lit a fire under him as well. In years past, Burns was the projected starter and had to keep from losing his job. This year, Burns started lower on the depth chart and had to earn his way up. Perhaps the difference in mentality along with his uncertain future has helped the mental phase of his game.
While I have no inside knowledge on the subject, it should at least be mentioned that there is an additional defensive backs coach on staff with the Steelers in 2019. Teryl Austin is a former defensive coordinator who was brought in to help the secondary as well as assist Coach Tomlin in other areas. Perhaps another coach has been able to help Burns in his progression and allowed him to use his natural abilities in a different manner.
Why Artie Burns will be the same in 2019
We’ve seen this before.
There is also the possibility that absolutely nothing has changed with Burns. Perhaps he is a player that practices well, but just can’t handle the pressure during the regular season. Maybe there is no explanation as to why he is this way. Or perhaps there is...
Preseason football fits him better.
This will take a little bit of explanation. During the preseason, the team doesn’t do a lot of game planning, especially in regards to studying their opponents. Week 3 is when the most amount would be done, but overall the focus is on what the Steelers are doing more than being prepared for the other team.
Perhaps this style of play is more in line with Burns’ strengths. To just line up against an opponent and stop them with your natural athletic abilities is much different than out-scheming the other team.
There is a chance that when more game planning takes place, Burns is not confident enough in the mental side of the game. As former Steeler and Steelers radio announcer Tunch Ilkin often quotes Chuck Noll, it’s the old “paralysis by analysis.” If Burns’ mind is not allowing his body to naturally react, he will play a step behind much like we saw the n 2018.
Perhaps all of these reasons are way off base. Or maybe one of them is correct. Either way, it may take several regular season games to determine if Artie Burns is a new and improved player in 2019, or if the same old guy is what we’re stuck with again this year.