In case you didn’t already know it, you can watch every game that new Pittsburgh Steelers cornerback Artie Burns played last year at Miami on Youtube. With that said, after watching all of those games myself, it was easy to notice that Burns was curiously rotated out of Miami’s defense during every game. Further research on my part revealed that Burns only played roughly 65% of all defensive snaps last season and that includes him missing the game against Virginia due to the death of his mother.
On Tuesday, David Todd of 970 ESPN Radio had Steelers general manager Kevin Colbert as guest on his show. Ahead of that, I asked my podcast co-host to ask Colbert why Burns didn’t see the field more in 2015 and he did just that.
“They [Miami] rotated, I mean he did miss one game after his mother’s passing he missed a game, but they played in a rotation,” said Colbert. “They really rolled about four or five guys through that secondary and as the year went on, I think that decreased because he obviously became one of their better players. So we have no concerns about that whatsoever. When he did play, he contributed. I mean six interceptions, if he did that in 65% of the snaps it’s even more impressive.”
Now, according to my count, Burns played 76% of all defensive snaps in Miami’s final four games of the 2015 season and with that, it’s worth noting that he missed some playing time in the game against Pittsburgh with a minor injury. Even so, one still has to wonder why Burns didn’t see more playing time last season.
Burns, as we all know by now, is a very raw prospect who the team really considered to be one of the better bump and run cornerbacks in this year’s draft class. Todd, however, asked Colbert if it’s fair to paint the Steelers first-round draft pick as just a press corner right now and also asked if he currently has the skill set to play whatever scheme they want him to fit into.
“No, he has the skill set to do it, but that’s what they [Miami] preferred him to do because actually he was very good at it,” said Colbert. “That was his best asset was his bump and run. We said we felt he can play bump and run as good as any of the corners in the draft. And each of those guys that were in that first round grouping, they all had a trait that was different that the rest, or better than the rest, but his certainly was that he was just a natural man-to-man bump and run guy.
“Now he’ll have to learn how play off more. He’ll have to learn all the zone coverages and combination coverages and that will be a work in progress for especially a third-year player. Really, we always say this, we’re going to get him for his senior year. We hope that he’s up to the challenge, but we never try to paint a guy into a corner and say that this is all he is. Rather, we say, ok, this is what he does the best and this is what he’ll need to work on. And as we said in the press conference, we probably identified that in mid March as we got through the pro days, that boy, this is a quality draft for corners, yet they’re all different. Some are bigger, some are stronger, some are faster, some are better off, some are better in bump and we just thought Artie was better in bump.”
The fact that Burns has near-ideal size and speed to play corner in the NFL in addition to already being praised for his bump and run skills is certainly encouraging. Additionally, while he really didn’t play as much as one would have hoped he had over the course of the last two seasons, it’s quite possible that he’s still very far away from his ultimate ceiling as a result of that. Keep in mind that Burns wasn’t able to dedicate as much time to his craft during the offseasons at Miami due to him also running track. In other words, the Steelers still have a lot to learn about Burns in the coming weeks and months and Colbert said as much on Tuesday.
“Maybe he’s better in off-coverage, or maybe he’s better in zone-coverage and just didn’t have those opportunities based on what they wanted from him at the University of Miami,” said Colbert. “But we’ll learn what his strengths and weaknesses are over time and then we’ll adjust accordingly, I’m sure. We’ll put them in the best situations they can be in and they’ll get in those situations whenever they prove that they’re ready for it.”