Pittsburgh Steelers training camp is less than a month away. The 2018 season will officially open when players report to Saint Vincent in Latrobe, PA on July 25. While everyone in the league knows what to expect from Pittsburgh’s offense, their defense is a different story. The last we saw the unit, they were shredded by the Jacksonville Jaguars for 378 yards and 45 points. That loss in the Divisional Round ousted Pittsburgh from the playoffs and dashed their Super Bowl dreams. A major factor in the play of the defense the past few seasons has been the secondary.
Pittsburgh Steelers Cornerbacks Look to Help Growing Secondary
The young group manning the secondary for Pittsburgh took major steps last season. Pittsburgh finished the season fifth in the NFL in pass defense. However, more pressure will be put on the secondary as the linebacking corps looks to replace Ryan Shazier. Specifically, Pittsburgh’s cornerbacks will have to be reliable to help the secondary continue to grow.
1. Joe Haden
Many of Pittsburgh’s corners are returning this season, with the exception of William Gay. This should help the unit grow stronger through training camp with a full year under their belts. They will also grow stronger under their leader, Joe Haden, who returns for his second year in Pittsburgh.
Pittsburgh’s top corner will be a force to be reckoned with if he is able to stay healthy. Haden missed five games last season with a leg injury. Still, his presence was felt in his first season as a Steeler. Now accustomed to the system and the team, expect Haden to improve and make an impact. Regardless of his performance, his presence as an established corner will greatly benefit the younger players at the position.
2. Artie Burns
The younger player to watch at the corner position is Artie Burns. Burns is entering his third season with Pittsburgh. Last season, we saw continued improvement from Burns, building on his rookie season. Still, his tackling skills are not up to par, and he cannot yet be considered a number one corner. If Burns can become more of a reliable number two behind Haden, Pittsburgh will have success defending the pass against almost anyone.
3. Mike Hilton
Mike Hilton raised some eyebrows with his play in 2017. Hilton will return to Pittsburgh looking to make the most of his opportunities in his second season. Hilton recorded four sacks, a forced fumble, and two interceptions despite only starting four games last season. Hilton plays with intelligence and heart, two things that will guarantee him more playing time. 2018 will be a fun year to watch as Hilton grows, hopefully into a budding star.
4. Coty Sensabaugh
The always reliable Coty Sensabaugh returns for his second year in Pittsburgh. Sensabaugh stepped up last season and started four games for Pittsburgh at corner. He has proven that he can be a serviceable replacement whenever a corner goes down. Sensabaugh has also come to represent what coach Mike Tomlin calls the “next man up” mentality. He will be crucial to providing stability at the corner position for Pittsburgh this year.
5. Cameron Sutton
Cameron Sutton will return, after getting a start last season. Sutton is not quite on the level that Hilton and Sensabaugh are right now. Still, the experience he gained last season will help him down the road. This year will be all about progression for Sutton. Another year at the professional level, looking to improve every day.
6. Brian Allen
Brian Allen also has a year under his belt with Pittsburgh and is looking to see the field more. Allen stands at 6’3’’ and has talent as a converted wide receiver. Allen may make a push for playing time if his fundamental play can catch up to his physical ability. He will most likely battle Cameron Sutton for field time and depth chart positioning.
7. Dashaun Phillips
Dashaun Phillips spent time on the practice squad last season and will return for training camp. Phillips will most likely be on the practice squad again to start this season, working for a spot on the roster.
8. Jamar Summers
Jamar Summers went undrafted in this year’s draft but was picked up by Pittsburgh. The former Connecticut corner showed enough ability at the Combine and on tape to be signed. Summers is a conservative corner, but also a good tackler. He will most likely be a long-term project for Pittsburgh but could see playing time in a few years.
The cornerback position has depth, something that was not true just two years ago. The amount of youth at the position will be the key for Pittsburgh. If the young corners can continue to grow under Haden, the Pittsburgh secondary could be one to fear in 2018.