Steelers Training Camp Recap: Cornerback

Now that the 2017 Pittsburgh Steelers training camp has concluded, we’re recapping everything that went down over these past 16 practices. We’ll break down each play, position-by-position, with final winners and losers at the end. Getting near the end with the corners.

Artie Burns: Man, his camp was like a weight off his shoulders. And yours. And probably Keith Butler’s too. Though we haven’t kicked off a regular season game yet, I am confident in saying Burns is already the top cornerback on the team. While he certainly didn’t shut down Antonio Brown, he was the only player on this defense who made life tough for AB.

Our final stats have Burns holding Brown to a 47% catch rate and just two touchdowns. Compare that with any other CB, mostly Ross Cockrell and Coty Sensabaugh, who allowed a catch 70% of the time and eight total touchdowns. It’s that iron-sharpen-iron mentality that will make facing any other receiver seem like child’s play. Burns is showing more physicality at the LOS and play strength down the field. His run fits and overall runs support has also taken a noticeable step forward. Was also happy to see him quickly return to the field after suffering a leg/groin injury during Friday Night Lights.

Camp Grade: A- 

Ross Cockrell: The man you love to hate. Again, it’s clear Cockrell is no longer the best corner on the team and he’s never going to be anything more than a #2. But his camp is better than you think. Just as Burns took his lumps vs Brown, Cockrell took his against Martavis Bryant.

Cockrell continues to improve on a tackler and got off to a good start at camp, especially before Bryant returned. Several breakups against Justin Hunter. He also had a forgotten about breakup in the end zone against the New York Giants. Sure, it was not a great camp. At times, it got ugly. But it’s better than some have made it out to be.

Camp Grade: C

William Gay: Gay had a fine camp. What’s remarkable about him is his consistency and durability. He got one veteran’s day off; beyond that, he didn’t miss a rep. He still makes plays on the football and flies in the backfield against the run. He’s at best, an average athlete, but there’s so much more about his game that makes him valuable and a fit in the slot.

Camp Grade: B 

Coty Sensabaugh: Similar to Tyson Alualu, a pleasant surprise. Sensabaugh doesn’t have elite physical tools but really strong ball skills. Maybe the second best on the team. Wish I would’ve tracked the number – maybe something for next year – but he was probably third on the team in pass breakups. Sensabaugh isn’t the most reliable tackler but certainly has the want-to and will support it with a high level of effort. He’s likely to be the top backup at both outside spots and maybe even in the slot, too. He didn’t see any reps there in camp but he’s played there in the past and asking Mike Hilton to step in would present its own challenges.

Camp Grade: B+

Greg Ducre: Unfortunately, it’s looking like Ducre’s season is going to come to a close in the near-future. Chris Adamski reported he was on crutches after injuring his left ankle against the Atlanta Falcons. The team hasn’t waived him as of this writing but it feels like it will occur soon. Ducre missed a chunk of time with an unknown injury but when he returned, worked as the Steelers’ second team RCB. He’s an above average athlete with impressive vertical and ability to time his jump.

Unfortunately, it’s exceedingly likely he doesn’t see another rep this year.

Camp Grade: B

Cam Sutton: We didn’t learn much about Sutton. He missed more time than anyone not named James Harrison, suffering a hamstring injury on the second day of practice and never returned to team drills. Very much an incomplete grade, though it’s looking like he has a chance to play this weekend vs the Indianapolis Colts.

Camp Grade: Incomplete

Brian Allen: Allen got off to a difficult start, unsurprising for a raw rookie. While the physical tools were there, his technique was poor. No longer could he get away with his speed and length. At the start of camp, Allen was prone to getting out of phase at the top of routes, looking back for the ball and giving up space. But he seemed to turn things around in the win over the Giants, playing the ball perfectly on a nine route late in the game.

His run fits were surprisingly strong, even early in camp, and he profiles as a good special teamer, though I am looking for him to stay on his feet and finish more tackles. Allen warmed up to the task and learned from his mistakes. Pretty much all you can ask for.

Camp Grade: C+ 

Senquez Golson: I don’t want to disparage Golson anymore than what he already has. You know the story. Suffered a left hamstring injury running down a punt on the third day of practice, first in pads. Hasn’t practiced since and there’s still a chance he doesn’t appear in a game this preseason. The one day of padded practice he was in actually looked good, with a tackle and breakup along the sideline. It’s a shame. Seven practices in three seasons.

Camp Grade: Incomplete

Brandon Dixon: As Tomlin says, better say “whoa” than “sick’em.” In a tweet, that’s a good way to sum Dixon up. He’s aggressive, has good hands, and can contest throws downfield. But few guys are as grabby as he is, showing that in camp and getting flagged twice against the Giants.

Matthew Marczi has aptly pointed out Dixon’s quality work as a gunner on the punt coverage team. With Ducre’s injury, there is a chance Dixon latches onto the practice squad.

Camp Grade: C

Mike Hilton: Certainly one of the top camp darlings. Hilton is not a big guy or have any special athletic traits (4.55, 33.5 inch vert at Pro Day), but he plays with an overwhelming amount of confidence who can hit and make plays on the football. Rarely a day went by where he didn’t make an impact play and earned the praises of myself, beat writers, the coaching staff, or all three. All for a guy who visually looks like the weakest link.

Hilton has done everything he can to make the team. And seems poised to do so.

Camp Grade: A 

JaCorey Shepherd: Shepherd was added part-way through camp. A 6th round pick two years ago with some talent, Shepherd showed off an impressive vertical and ability to high point the football. His play time has been inconsistent depending on the health of the group. He’s better than what a team usually has at the bottom of their roster but there’s nothing there to be ecstatic about.

Camp Grade: C+ 


About the Author

Alex Kozora
Full-time blogger from mom's basement. Marrying tape and statistics. Chidi Iwuoma is my favorite Steeler of all-time.
  • WreckIess

    The second Golson’s injury went from a lower body injury to a hamstring tear the writing was pretty much on the wall for him. They’ll cut ties with him and I don’t think the practice squad is an option because those guys are actually expected to practice. Waste of a spot if he can’t. So in my opinion we’re looking at Burns, Cockrell, Gay, Sutton, Sensabaugh, and Hilton as our corners with Sutton sitting on some early game days and Brian Allen on the Practice Squad.

  • pittsburghjoe

    Great breakdown, Alex!

  • Zarbor

    That’s about right. Not sure if we’ve improved a whole lot from last year. I’m on the replace Gay bandwagon.

  • KiJana Haney

    Long term I do not believe in cockrell. I think we need to replace him next off season.

  • Steelers12

    Ross Cockrell is an ok CB but he lacks speed and thats dangerous in man to man defense

  • stan

    Cockrell is no longer the best corner on the team? When was he the best? Even if you say he was better than Burns last year, Gay had the best statistical year in every stat I saw from Football Outsiders.

  • AndyR34

    Alex – Ducre to IR(?)..especially with them bringing in Crawford at this late date. Don’t know what to say about Golson…soon as we cut/waive with injury settlement, someone else will claim him and turn him into a really good corner…yes, I can live in my fears. Just too much potential there. Clearly, Burns, Cockrell, Gay, Sutton, and Sensabaugh make the team. Probably Hilton also, with Allen to practice squad.

  • newguy68

    C+ for Allen?? Pretty tough grading scale if you ask me.

  • Andrew

    Well his RFA tag/contract is only good for this year, so you will probably get your wish.

    You have to think the Steelers hope Sutton can make strides this year and be ready for a big role next year. Gay and Sensabaugh will be on the last year of their deals in 2018, and however much Allen can continue to improve with NFL coaching (and time!) remains to be seen. You will probably see CB as a top 3 round position in the draft next year again.

  • KiJana Haney

    I agree with everything you are saying. We should probably spend a top 2 pick on cb depending on what ben decides to do.

  • Beaver Falls Hosiery

    Seven practices in three seasons … for +$2 million. Time to cut losses and move on. Sorry he got injured and did not have a chance to show what he can do; but not sorry for him. Got well compensated.

  • Beaver Falls Hosiery

    Steelers just announced Ducre waived

  • Alex Kozora


  • Alex Kozora

    Why have a grading scale from F to A if you don’t use all of it, ya know?

  • Alex Kozora

    Cockrell was definitely better than Burns. And yeah, I consider him better than Gay too. Especially when you consider Cockrell had to deal with (and deal with pretty well) guys like Marshall and AJ Green.

  • Bryan Ischo

    If Artie Burns turns into a shutdown corner then we have certainly improved don’t you think? Also Hilton looks better than anyone did last year. Of course, the proof will be in regular season performance.

  • stan

    Once Burns got into the starting line-up, he was definitely better than Cockrell. Early on he struggled but once he got going he was excellent. It was Burns who was getting the bigger assignments (like Green and Marshall) too.

  • Alex Kozora

    Well you have to factor that into the equation. Burns struggled badly for about half the season. And when he got some of those primetime matchups (Dez) he got whooped.

  • falconsaftey43

    There are going to be a lot of potential draft priorities next year. S (Mitchel will be in final year), TE (they all stink), ILB (can Williams hack it? Shazier getting a new deal?), QB (Ben???), CB (Gay likely gone, how did Sutton/Cockrell/Allen/Hilton/Sensabaugh do?)

  • KiJana Haney

    That will be the difficult thing to decipher. I am a fan of Mitchell and I would resign him. I like the depth of hagen and dangerfield. TE is definitely something we should infest in either in free agency or a pick. Shazier will be signed. QB depends on ben. I would draft one early because next year is the holy grail of draft classes the question is what will we have to draft to move up to acquire a top rated qb. A long ranging cb will make a big difference. Depending on how cockrell perfroms will determine what we do long term.

  • KiJana Haney

    Another factor is if Ben was to retire would we spend the extra cap money on a quality player to improve the defense like a solid ILB or TE. I think the CB market is way to inflated but the ILB and TE market isn’t. I hope that ben does not retire but I think that new deals for shazier and tuitt will take up some of the cap but I think a free agent acquire either for a ILB or a TE is a must.

  • stan

    That makes sense too. I just tend to look at the guy who can play better as the better player than the guy who was more consistent but has a lower ceiling.

  • Zarbor

    Yes. Artie getting better will be good but he was not a weakness by year end. I don’t expect Cockrell to be much better this year and Gay is a liability now.

    Hilton can be an upgrade to Gay but as you said let’s see in season. He impressed in the preseason.

    My biggest hope in improving is the pass rush. If Dupree Watt and Chikillo keep it consistent with the sacks, I guess that backfield looks way better. So I take it back. We should be very improved.

    Just didn’t look so against the Falcons first team.

  • BurghInPhilly

    I know I’m in the minority, but Golson getting released is total nonsense if PUP, practice squad, and IR with return are all options. Let me put it this way, if tomorrow we picked up from the waivers a 2nd rounder from the Titans (meaning familiarity with defensive scheme), whose scouting reports said “nose for the ball, can play inside/outside, experience in man and zone,” who hadn’t missed a game in college, but had been injured two seasons in a row, came back for a day and Dick LeBeau specifically said had played well on the first day of his third camp (Butler said that about Golson), and came with a price tag of $2M our fan base would be psyched. Doesn’t matter how things got here, the fact is, the front office has to play this one “as it lies” and make a decision on the circumstances they face right now- not a cumulative one. Do people not realize this secondary has no one after Burns, David, and Mitchell? Gotta keep him. It’s a no brainer.