Steelers News

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.

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