The Pittsburgh Steelers are still in the early stages of the 2021 offseason, but with the 2021 NFL Draft over the attention now turns to the regular season. There are steps along the way, mandatory minicamp, Organized Team Activities (OTAs) and training camp, but the position battles which will take shape throughout the offseason are worth discussion.
Sure, things could change between now and the start of training camp. Injuries, acquisitions and players emerging can alter the outcome of these battles, but there will be several key battles taking place. In this series, myself and Dave Schofield will be giving our analysis and prediction for each training camp battle which will unfold at some point this offseason.
Today we take a look at a critical position/battle for the Steelers’ defense. The battle at cornerback between Justin Layne, James Pierre, newly signed Arthur Maulet and rookie Shakur Brown.
There is a lot to this camp battle, and a lot of it depends on how the Steelers plan on deploying their players, and at what position. For instance, if Cam Sutton is a player who is flexed to the slot during sub packages, the battle is for the reserve outside cornerback. If Sutton stays on the outside, this battle is for who can play the nickel or dime defensive back position.
For the sake of this exercise, we will assume Sutton will be deployed inside during sub packages; therefore, the debate will be who starts outside in this scenario.
Who wins the battle? Dave and I give our predictions below, but be sure to let us know what you think in the poll below, and be sure to explain your vote in the comment section!
Analysis: When talking about the secondary, or cornerback, depth there are a lot of factors in the equation. When Mike Hilton was on the roster no one ever saw him as an outside cornerback. He played the slot, and played it well. Not every cornerback is suited to play on the interior, just as not every player who thrives in the box can play outside the numbers. In this situation, with Sutton sliding back to his usual role during sub packages, you have some options on the outside. The vast majority of these options weren’t even on the roster in 2020, but that doesn’t make it any less intriguing.
Prediction: Believe it or not, I would love for Justin Layne to win this job, but I just don’t see it happening. I would love for Undrafted Rookie Free Agent (UDFA) Shakur Brown to make a lasting impression, but I don’t see that happening either. To me, this battle will come down to Pierre and Maulet. Some might not know much about Maulet, but he is a very versatile defender with plenty of experience at both corner and safety; however, if he is going to impact the depth chart I think it would be in the box. In other words, if Maulet plays a great deal, it would allow Sutton to stay on the outside. But if Sutton is flexing inside, I think this job is Pierre’s to lose, and that says a lot. We haven’t seen a ton of Pierre, but there are some high expectations placed on the young second year cornerback.
Analysis: I think I’ve finally convinced Jeff that this is the way the Steelers need to go. First, Joe Haden is the number one guy. If Cam Sutton is the number two guy and he’s getting outside reps, but then the third-best guy is more of an outside guy and Sutton is a good inside guy, then Sutton needs to flex into the slot if that’s going to get the best players on the field for the Steelers. I was going to do an entire article on this at some point, so I’ll save a little bit until then.
Prediction: I I have a bit of a bold prediction here… Justin Layne is my top “big-name player” who could possibly not make the 53-man roster. I’m not saying I’m predicting it just yet, but if these young guys the Steelers have brought in as UDFAs and if Arthur Maulet is going to get the job done in regards to depth, there might not be a fit for Layne other than the fact he’s a good special teams gunner. It seems like the Steelers have thrown a lot of players into the mix to where other guys could earn the slot corner position and keep Sutton on the outside. But based on players who have previously worn the Steelers uniform, I say the Steelers start off in Week 1 with Cam Sutton on the outside in base packages, and then he slides into the slot for Pierre to play the outside in sub packages.
Who wins the Steelers cornerback training camp battle?
This poll is closed