Update: DC Keith Butler Sees More Intensity From Artie Burns Following Trade; Hints He Could Play In Opener

The Pittsburgh Steelers have not had a first-round cornerback on their roster since the 2004 season, the last year in which the team’s 1997 first-round draft pick, Chad Scott, played for them, before finishing up his career with two seasons in New England.

The front office added not one, but two of them to the roster this offseason, drafting Artie Burns with the 25th-overall pick in the first round of the 2016 NFL Draft, and then just about a week ago trading a sixth-round pick in 2018 for the former eighth-overall pick in the 2014 NFL Draft, cornerback Justin Gilbert of the Browns.

And the sudden introduction of Gilbert onto the roster—failure though he might have been deemed in Cleveland—has defensive coordinator Keith Butler pondering whether or not the influx of competition is driving his rookie first-rounder even harder, especially after missing so much time.

Butler spoke with reporters just recently, and said that he has been seeing more intensity from Burns in practice over the course of the past few days, even saying, according to Jim Wexell, “I think he’s cover 84 better”. The number 84, of course, belongs to a 2010 sixth-round wide receiver by the name of Antonio Brown, who has stuck onto the roster for a seventh season.

When prompted about whether or not the amped up intensity may have anything to do with the fact that they brought in Gilbert, Wexell says that Butler did not dismiss the idea, and said simply that “if it is, I’ll take it”.

Burns and Gilbert are two of just four healthy cornerbacks currently on the roster, although rookie second-round safety Sean Davis has been being used in the slot, and is expected to start there. William Gay and Ross Cockrell are for the time being the Steelers’ starting outside cornerbacks.

That leaves Burns and Gilbert scraping and clawing for any playing time that they can find, which might come about in whatever capacity that they find a use for in their quarter package. During practice, it was reported that the team shifted Gay into the slot, moved Davis back to safety, and lined up Burns on the outside. But that was before Gilbert’s arrival.

And that was also just after Davis returned from a quad injury that dogged him throughout training camp and forced him to sit out the first three preseason games. he did finally get right enough to participate in the final preseason game, playing extensively in the first half, and recorded a pass deflection that may have well saved a touchdown.

The Steelers are hopeful that they can get some meaningful contributions out of their two first-round cornerbacks at some point during this season, though they won’t be rushed along and put on the field before they are ready and can be relied upon to understand their assignments.

Update: A bit later on, Mike Prisuta supplied some interesting quotes from Butler as well, saying that Davis is not locked into the slot, and that the Steelers could also look at Gay for the Washington opener. They could conceivably mix and match, of course. But if Gay kicks inside, it seems likely that Burns could log time with the nickel defense on the outside, in that event, because Davis would certainly not play outside.

About the Author

Matthew Marczi

Passionate Steelers fan with a bit of writing ability. Connoisseur of loud music. Follow me on Twitter @mmarczi.

  • srdan

    Competition breeds winning

  • Rick Williams

    2 Dogs, 1 Bone?

  • budabar

    Playing against AB in practice everyday will have to slow the game down against the rest of the WR in the league

  • afrazier9

    Hell yeah but i do hope to see more press coverage which might help are pass rush. Please coach butler don’t have the corners ten yards off the ball that is still insane to me. I don’t see that any where else

  • srdan

    I don’t see him getting the AB assignments vs other teams. I think he will draw more of teh AJ green, Gordon assignments rather than the smaller OBJ, Cooks, Cobb types.

    But going against the best will not harm you if your’e mentally tough.

  • Consistent

    Good to hear…no GREAT to hear!

  • John Noh

    I like Wex a lot but that seems a bit too cynical to me. I think it probably has more to do with Burns being healthy and ready to play. I don’t think the idea of him hearing Gilbert’s footsteps is the reason. If Gilbert plays well enough to relegate Burns to be his backup, that’s all goodness for the Steelers, frankly.

  • Lambert58

    I would imagine too that his confidence is growing after some successful live action.

  • Matthew Marczi

    I’m sure there are a multitude of factors, not the least of which being the fact that he is returning from injury and naturally ramping it up coming off his first game action. Not to mention the fact that they’re preparing for a meaningful game now, and everybody is more ramped up. But having Gilbert instead of Grant behind him should be a motivator as well.

  • Dorian James

    Totally agree, I doubt Burns is lacking in confidence

  • Josh Gustad

    We went from really having no depth, to having some guys that can get the job done. Senquez could possibly come back halfway through the season and we might be looking at a decent secondary! Fingers crossed.

  • srdan

    Even as it stands, I would say this is the best secondary we have had since Ike and troy in their prime. So 5 years. Plus then we didn’t have young talent even remotely close to what we do today. So the arrow is green and pointing up.

  • Josh Gustad

    The group is still very young and unproven, but I like the guys we have assembled for our push for 7.

  • Big White

    After the smoke has settled from camp and pre-season, it appears that our swiss-cheese secondary is riding on the performance and health of Cockrell. He or Gay for that matter. We lose either of those two and we’ll have to score nearly 40 ppg

  • Sam Clonch

    Shoot, motivating the 1st round pick is worth a 6th round pick most days. And then there’s days you use a 6th round pick on AB, and it throws thing out of wack.

  • Sam Clonch

    That’s how you keep them hungry!

  • Jason Ader

    Pittsburgh Sports Fanatics is reporting that Gilbert has picked off Ben twice in practice today. Any other sources that can confirm this? “Steelers new Cornerback Justin Gilbert, either looks like a new player, or Cleveland needs better coaches,
    Gilbert turning heads at Steelers practice, as he showcase not only exceptional footwork but his hands as well, picking Ben off twice once was a go route to AB, and the other was a fade to Coates”

  • Dave Warren

    oh hell yeah! this is what I like to read. super pumped to get it on.

  • srdan

    Agreed on both fronts, but I’d say they have potentitial. It’s something we haven’t had in our secondary since Cortez and Keenan were young.

  • steelburg

    The development of this group depends on this guy playing sooner rather than later. I said it after I saw the preseason game he played in he looked ready enough to contribute early IMO. In all honesty I wouldn’t be upset if Cockrell got bumped down the depth chart behind both Gilbert and Burns because they start to play better. I dream of days where Burns, Gilbert, Golson and Cockrell are the foundation of this group. I hope it all works out that way.

  • PaeperCup

    Capitalism at it’s best.

  • Matthew Marczi

    If Gilbert and Burns are their best two cornerbacks, I certainly won’t begrudge them the playing time. But call me skeptical about that happening any time soon.

  • John

    Isn’t Golbert an option at CB if Gay moves to nickel and doesn’t that make more sense right now?

  • Matthew Marczi

    He’s been with the team for less than a week. He’s an option, but given the time of his arrival–ignoring the fact that he didn’t play well for Cleveland–I wouldn’t say it makes more sense.

  • SkoolHouseRoxx

    I got a feeling this Burns kid will be a keeper! Ball out Young one! Ball out!

  • J.

    If Gilbert becomes what he was supposed to be and Burns turns out to be what the Steelers wanted as their number 1 draft pick the Steelers may end up set at CB for years.

  • thomas hmmmm

    I am thinking Golson will be back way before the 8th week of the season… I would not be surprised if he is playing in week 5…

  • thomas hmmmm

    I doubt that, the depth is much better this season than last season.. Not only that but we have Golden starting over Allen in the secondary, who is much better in coverage than Allen was.
    Last season we had no depth for the outside, except Cockrell.. This year we have Gibson and Burns who are both better than Blake, the starter from last season.

  • LucasY59

    The Addition of Gilbert made me think they were probably going to use Gay in some form as a slot defender, they didnt bring in any Nickel cover guy so even if its because Davis is hurt the only options they have other than Davis is Gay (who has to move in from the outside) and Golden (who is the SS starter, so someone else has to come in for him as well)

    Gilbert and Burns should both be better than Blake was/is (1st rd picks vs undersized UDFA) so just like last yr when Will moved to the slot, they can bring in a guy to play outside (1st half of the season they brought in Cockrell and Blake was the outside starter opposite Gay (Later in the season Cockrell took over once he was more familiar with the system) after they finally gave up on Blake as an outside guy (he was also injured, but still shouldntve been anything more than emergency depth and ST contributor) they kept Gay on the outside and (finally) put in Boykin as the slot guy with Gay staying on the outside, this was when the Secondary/CBs had the most success, they dont have the option of bringing in a Boykin type this yr until Golson returns from injury (but he will be very inexperienced/working back into football shape) so the end of the season is when I expect the CB/secondary to gel and play similarly to how they did at the end of last season

    like I already mentioned having Burns and Gilbert should be an upgrade (at least in physical talent) to what they had last yr, also having Davis as a possible Nickle/Dime defender should help as well, so even though they are unproven and might take some lumps while they are learning I think this Secondary should finish the season as a stronger unit than last yrs (which statistically isnt much, but combined with a strong front 7, who will also have some additions) as a whole the D should be good enough to help the team contend for a championship (the only way I see them failing to do so is because of injury, so it wouldnt be what was on the field as much as who is not on the field)

  • Matthew Marczi

    He better be, haha.

  • LucasY59

    Additions (hopefully all are positive) Burns, Davis, Gilbert, Hargrave, Mathews, Chickillo (not really a new addition, but will have much bigger impact/role on D than he did his rookie yr) (neutral) S.Johnson, Matakevich (dont expect either to play on D, so no impact positive or negative, they do fill the losses well, and could/should contribute on STs)

    Subtractions (positive) Blake, W.Allen, c.thomas (negative) Mclendon, Spence, Boykin (neutral) Garvin (could almost move Spence/Boykin to the neutral spot since their loss should not have much of an impact)

  • LucasY59

    It will take time, but the potential for it to happen is there

  • Boots

    Don’t discount the confidence boost he probably got from a good showing in the Car game. Coming in and taking some lumps from AB had to test his confidence, so getting out there and making a couple plays had to be huge for him.

  • LucasY59

    agree, I think the Secondary will find its groove late in the season and be much more of a strength than a weakness heading into the postseason

    Burns and Gilbert need some experience to get to where they are projected to be, giving them limited snaps and (hopefully) building confidence will be a big thing for them, they will have some growing pains (and that is why they wont/shouldnt be pushed into a prominent role until they earn it) but give them enough snaps that they are able to build through the season

  • Reg Sayhitodabadguy Hunt

    Agreed we have an extremely athletic bunch in the secondary with talent to be coached up and I really believe Gilbert is way better than what happened in cleavland this guy was a top 10 draft pick in a yr that had a lot of really good prospects coming out and yet he was ranked high on every draft board that I can remember seeing in the mocks and golson was another guy that was considered to be the best slot corner draft analysist has seen in yrs with our future looking like Gilbert and burns on the outside and golson in the slot along with Mitchell and Davis in at safety I would say we’re looking pretty good in the coming years

  • LucasY59

    typo, or Gibson = combination of Gilbert/Golson?

    I know what you meant, but the coincidence of the combo made me point it out…hehe

  • LucasY59

    I would combine them (health/addition of Gilbert) and add that Burns might be pumped for the start of the regular season as well

  • LucasY59

    just saw your comment (pretty much same as what I just posted) If we as fans are jacked for the start of the season, the players should be 10x that (if thats possible…)

  • LucasY59


  • JNick

    Next year we could conceivably have two first round starting OCBS with Gayle and Gilson manning the slot. What a weird off season in the secondary

  • Reg Sayhitodabadguy Hunt

    Maybe that’s why I felt like Tomlin was holding out info during the press conference when asked about the cb situation and the addition of Gilbert his eyes lit up like he had a huge secret he wanted to let out but couldn’t spill the beans just yet and he basically said that he was really looking forward to seeing them in action on GameDay

  • LucasY59

    I think both of you are correct, going against AB makes you better no matter what, but I also agree him covering a guy like AB isnt suited to his strengths (but facing him all week in practice should help that some) I like that we have some guys that should fair better against the AJ Green types better than the 5’9″ cbs we have had previously

  • Steelers12

    Burns and Gilbert hopefully transform into a strong tandem for years to come

  • Nicholas Allen Cotner

    We can only hope this is true

  • Pack

    What website reported this?

  • Jason Ader

    Pittsburgh Sport Fanatics facebook page, I tried to post a link earlier, but it didn’t post.

  • Michael Conrad

    LOL I said that this morning . I said I smell Burns playing more then people think. I don’t think Davis in the slot is good for the long run and Guy outside is not good.

  • eric

    Didn’t you guys touch on this a few weeks ago? I remember something about Davis at SS and Golden in a hybrid role in this situation

  • steelmann58

    very very good it nice to see Gilbert and Burns got playing time in this secondary

  • cencalsteeler

    One would think that Ben just may throw his defense a few bones once in a while to boost their egos and help the new kids on the block gain some confidence.

  • Nathanael Dory

    where is the article?

  • Nicholas Allen Cotner

    Or at least till both need to get paid lol

  • Taylor Williams

    Carolina is doing it.

  • Xclewsive

    I think Ross Cockrell becomes the odd man out as the seasons progresses

  • Lil Smitty

    Maybe not this year, I don’t see Gilbert refining his technique this season. Next year if Gilbert puts the work in, Ross and Will Gay will be fighting for number three or four in the depth charts on the outside.

  • Lil Smitty

    i agree with what you are saying. The young corners need time to develop and learn, aka mess up and give up TD’s. From everything that I have heard abut Burns he can handle being burnt on plays because he is trying to learn from it. If Gilbert adopts the same attitude and is willing to refine his technique, they could be special.
    I am predicting that as they put Burns into the lineup. there will be weeks where he will be hated on this site and weeks where people will be wanting to put him in the hall of fame.
    Time will tell if they can handle it. I think Burns can handle it.
    I thought Gilbert was a person that got by on his athletic ability in college and never had to work that hard to be successful. Lets see if he is willing to work half as hard as AB.If he is he will be a good cornerback.

  • LucasY59

    Gilbert going against AB should teach him a lot, I think there are guys around that can really help him, Will Gay is a guy that embraces the Veteran leader/mentor role, Mitchell is not going to let him slack either (and is a guy that can relate as a outside guy coming into the Pittsburgh and learning the Steeler way as new NFL experience, instead of being drafted into it and not having any outside influence) there are also guys like Deebo, Timmons, and Heyward, they have been part of the organization and are vets that wont let anyone get away with much, the whole team is focused on getting a ring and wont allow distractions

  • MC

    Very encouraging news, i dig it.

    It’s a big if, but if both of these guys could play up or even close to their value in their drafts, I would be absolutely ecstatic for years to come.

  • jsteeler

    No other team has a Big Ben AB connection as well. This has to be the Iron that Sharpens the Iron for the secondary. Ben will help the Secondary get better just by being Ben.

  • jsteeler

    This is why the players will run through a BRICK WALL for this DUDE! Coach Tomlin always hype other players up from other teams and protects his players whether injury or rumors from the Media. The Hunter mentality like Ben said yesterday instead of the Hunted type ISH! The mentality he has and his play on words with this locker room fires these guys up. His Tomlin-isms are regurgitated during every players interview, regular Fans who watches and heard him on the radio and websites and even the local media eats this up.
    Last year when Coach Tomlin told the Big Play Willie Gay & the Secondary:
    DON’T BLINK….. i’LL CUT YOUR EYELIDS OFF: DON’T BLINK !!!Signifying Read your keys and watch the QB. Anything can change in a blink of an eye on the field, So Don’t blink. I love it. Master Motivator & Coach T is Perfect for this Band of Brothers.

  • Reg Sayhitodabadguy Hunt

    True but I’m really impressed with how he breaks down opposing teams you can tell he really did his homework

  • Jim Foles

    Fort is way ahead of s.johnson..

  • Jim Foles

    10? more like 12.

  • Jim Foles

    and lost to a rookie.

  • David Paul

    I’d feel more comfortable with him outside and Gay in the slot (not that there’s anything wrong with it) than Gay outside and Davis in the slot. Slot is a thinking man’s position, Gay is the trusted vet. Don’t need a rookie there, especially one playing out of position.

  • David Paul

    You guys might want to pump the brakes until these guys, you know, actually play in a real football game.

  • David Paul

    He’s practiced twice in two years. What job would you give him?

  • David Paul

    Gilbert is a complete 0 with attitude problems until he proves otherwise. There’s a greater chance he’s out of the league than quality depth this year.

  • David Paul

    The potential is also there for Gilbert to be out of the league and in psychiatric therapy.

  • srdan

    That is exactly it. When Ike was aging, and we were signing bryce Mccain, Cortez was hurt all the time, it was hard to get excited about the potential of the guys behind them. Today, I can do htat. It has nothing to do with realized potential…yet.

  • Xclewsive

    We’ll get to see in these next few weeks if possibly the skill refinement has already taken place. Either way there is going to be 4 dogs 2 bones once Golson comes back from injury. The Steelers have created bunch of competition in that CB group even if it’s unconventional.

  • LucasY59

    Im not saying he isnt (he was already on the team so I didnt mention him)

  • thomas hmmmm

    If we could bet on that I would because I doubt Gilbert is out of the league this year…
    Gilbert has all the intangibles a corner is suppose to have and I wouldn’t listen to all those reports about him in Cleveland because well, it’s Cleveland which is a mess to begin with..
    He might actually be happy to be playing in Pitt and might actually do what he is suppose to. If he does than we have a 1st round talent with all the intangibles at on the outside at a cost of a 6th round.

  • thomas hmmmm

    Same position that he was going to have all along.. Back up slot CB who also gets time in the dime and quarter packages..
    This allows Davis to focus on being a safety and Burns to get time outside.

  • John Gorn

    Yep, I’m guessing that a green Golson is a better slot CB than a practiced Davis.

  • thomas hmmmm

    I say that because I think Burns or even now Gilbert are better outside corners than either Golson or Davis are slot corners.