The first day of training camp for the Pittsburgh Steelers is July 26. With that said, the 2019 NFL season is quickly approaching. Cornerback has been a point of concern for Pittsburgh in past seasons. The position does not seem all too deep and Pittsburgh has done little to improve its depth. With that said, the few new pieces that have been added will need to step up if Pittsburgh wants to compete for a division crown.
The integrity of a secondary starts at cornerback. Without solid cover corners, not even the best safeties can perform. For the 2019 Steelers, corner is looking up, hopefully enough to have an impact come September.
The leader at corner for Pittsburgh continues to be Joe Haden. Haden is a seasoned veteran who has proven he can be reliable in coverage. Sparing any sort of injury or major setback, Haden will certainly have another productive year. Haden’s presence is very important. Pittsburgh’s depth at corner is not strong. A Haden injury can quickly weaken the defense if he must give way to a backup.
While Haden is a solid CB1, Mike Hilton returns as a great second option. Hilton is one of the best in the game covering the slot and fits well in the nickel. While Hilton has yet to sign a new contract, he is not holding out. Hilton is committed to playing in Pittsburgh for a long time and has chosen to not hold out. I have been a big fan of Hilton. He works hard, plays fundamentally sound defense and is a team-first guy. I look for him to have another strong year and earn that contract he wants.
Past Haden and Hilton, there will be a struggle for playing time. Newly acquired Steven Nelson will get a chance to prove himself in Pittsburgh after four years in Kansas City. Nelson had the best season of his young career in 2018. Nelson nabbed four interceptions and recorded 68 tackles while starting 16 games for Kansas City.
Another newcomer, Justin Layne, will also be looking to make a name for himself in his new city. Layne, Pittsburgh’s third-round draft pick in the 2019 Draft, was known for his coverage at Michigan State. After running a 4.5 40 yard dash at the combine, Layne should was a steal in the third Round. If he adjusts well to the NFL, Layne could see significant time as a rookie this season.
While Nelson and Layne are trying to establish names, Artie Burns is trying to correct his. After a promising 2017 rookie campaign, Burns took a step back last season. He seemed overwhelmed and was not fundamentally sound. He showed so much promise his rookie year. Last year, most of his stats dropped and he certainly did not pass the eye test. If Burns can get back on track with the progress he made in 2017, this will be a deep position for Pittsburgh. If not, Burns may be looking for a new home at the end of his rookie contract.
Outside of the top five, others will be scrapping for a spot on the 53-man roster. Cameron Sutton returns for his third year after seeing action in 15 games last season. Despite only starting one, Sutton recorded his first career interception last season. Brian Allen will also return for his third year, appearing in six games for the black and gold last season. Finally, Herb Waters will look to make the squad as an outside corner and former wide receiver.
Pittsburgh added to the corner position this off-season, but was it enough? If Haden stays healthy, he is a great number one. If Hilton continues to improve, he will be a budding star. If Nelson and Layne pan out and Burns turns things around, the position could be very deep. But nothing ever goes as planned in the NFL. Did Pittsburgh do enough at corner? We will find out soon enough.