Steelers' CB Depth Holds Three Levels of Competition
The Steelers have four corners they can rely on all season, an up-and-comer they're looking to take a step forward this season, and four players fighting for two practice squad spots. Camp brings levels of excitement for the Pittsburgh defensive backs.
Cornerbacks on the Roster
Joe Haden and Steven Nelson
Batman and Superman are what the social media world knows them as. Haden and Nelson were one of the best cornerback duos in the NFL last season. That should only improve with a full season together and Minkah Fitzpatrick becoming more comfortable with the defense.
Nelson allowed one touchdown and 12 man-on-man receptions in 2019. He's spent the offseason assuring he knows how underrated he is, and rightfully so.
He also promised more interceptions on his part.
"It's hard to go out there and say 'I'm going to get some interceptions,' you have to get some targets," Nelson said earlier this offseason. "I have some little conversations within my inner circle - maybe I have to do some talking this year, get guys to throw at me. Whatever it takes. But I do feel like this year I will get more than one interception at least. It should be a better year for me in that area."
Haden is already a Pro Bowler. He finished 2019 with five interceptions and isn't expecting a slow down at the age of 31.
Camp will show how far the chemistry between the two has come, and if Nelson is ready to become the team's second No. 1 corner, quarterbacks are in trouble.
Mike Hilton and Cameron Sutton
On the inside, this is the year to expect more Sutton. Hilton is signed on another tender, and the Steelers likely won't be able to pay him what he deserves next offseason.
Despite saying that he wants to spend his career in Pittsburgh last season, it's not financially capable if he continues to play the way he has been.
Therefore, it's time to see if Sutton can take over as the team's primary nickel back at some point in the future. 2020 should be the year he begins to work his way into the role without taking away from what Hilton provides when he's on the field.
Camp will be a mix of the both of them playing with the first team. Sutton has been the team's first backup for two seasons and has played with the starters in practice from time to time. That's nothing new.
It's what's behind those reps that are important. If Sutton shows he's taking another step forward, he'll see increased playing time.
Well, Layne didn't start the best by having to be placed on the team's reserve/COVID-19 list. That doesn't mean he tested positive, but it might. It could also mean he's in quarantine because he's been in contact with someone who has the virus.
Either way, as the younger guys in Pittsburgh, begin their ramp-up prior, Layne is waiting for his time to get back on the football field. Despite being the team's third-round pick in 2019, nothing is guaranteed, and Layne needs to impress when he's back at Heinz Field.
2020 will be a large special teams contribution for Layne. He'll see work on defense behind Haden and Nelson, and camp will give him plenty of reps to work with. But until the cornerback depth chart isn't so crowded, his primary purpose on this roster is to be a reliable punt and kick man.
That's a role Sutton has shined at, and it's given him more control of his future. Layne can do the same.
Myers, Borders, Bandy, Springs
The Steelers have two practice squad spots to fill and four players who will compete for it. Myers brings Pittsburgh experience to camp, but that doesn't mean he's guaranteed anything competing against the other three.
Springs comes from the XFL, and if Kameron Kelly taught us anything last year, it's that you can undoubtedly impress coming off a spring league.
Borders and Bandy enter the league as undrafted free agents with something to prove if they're going to make an NFL roster. The shortened offseason and having to limit the training camp roster to 80 players by Aug. 16 doesn't weigh in their favor.
They'll need to do anything possible to show they deserve a chance once pads are on, which will mean harder work in the weight room and some flashy plays during on-field drills.
It's not impossible, but it is going to be an uphill climb.