Arguably one of the better stories of training camp so far, even if it has gone a bit under the radar, has been the solid work of third-year cornerback Cameron Sutton, who was the Pittsburgh Steelers’ natural third-round pick in the 2017 NFL Draft.
Watching his other three draft classmates in the first three round of that year excel in their second season a year ago and reach the Pro Bowl, Sutton was likely feeling left in the dust as he missed out on the opportunity to replace Artie Burns in the starting lineup once he was demoted, that role going to Coty Sensabaugh.
The Steelers went out and spent in free agency to bring in Steven Nelson, so he still figures to be competing—with Burns—for a backup job, but Head Coach Mike Tomlin has been played with what he has seen from Sutton, both on the practice field and in the preseason.
“I thought he did some solid things. He’s done some solid things out here, playing on the outside”, he said during his press conference yesterday. “I think just a description of his performance and contributions to this point have been really solid. I think his versatility is really showing. I think he’s been above the line outside and inside, and I think that’s useful for him in terms of earning and establishing a role, and obviously useful for us”.
Sutton started the team’s first preseason game as the right outside cornerback, opposite rookie third-round pick Justin Layne, with Nelson, Joe Haden, Burns, and Brian Allen all not participating. He has been running alternately both inside and outside with the second-team defense throughout the summer, so his versatility, and his best position on the field, has also been a subject of conversation.
“I think we’re going to continue to determine that, particularly as we get in-stadium action”, Tomlin said on that front. “The work out here is football-like, but not football. We’ve got three other weeks of action awaiting us, and so we’ll continue to work him and others and establish an opinion there”.
There is a very realistic scenario in which Sutton enters his third season as the ‘starting’ dimebacker in addition to being the first player off the bench both on the outside and the inside among the cornerback positions. With that said, he has not been given the opportunity, to my knowledge, to work with the safeties this offseason, though Mike Hilton has a bit.
This is an important season for the third-year man to show what kind of contributor he can be as they work toward building a championship-level secondary. Demonstrating that he can fit into that will be pretty important to establish before he heads into his contract year in 2020.