Now that Pittsburgh Steelers rookie cornerback Cameron Sutton has officially resumed practicing after spending the first 8 weeks of the regular season on the team’s Reserve/Injured list with a hamstring injury, we can resume speculating as to what kind of role he might play with the team when and if he’s ultimately placed on the 53-man roster in the next 21 days.
Barring any injuries to the Steelers current stable of weekly participating cornerbacks, Artie Burns, Joe Haden, Mike Hilton and William Gay, it’s hard to envision Sutton seeing much, if any, playing time on defense the remainder of the regular season. Remember, while Sutton has reportedly still been active in team meetings all season, he’s yet to practice with the team since the preseason and thus he probably still has a lot to learn and prove before being allowed to play meaningful defensive snaps.
While Sutton might still need some more grooming moving forward this season before seeing playing time on defense, the Tennessee product might be able to contribute immediately on special teams if ultimately placed on the 53-man roster.
The Steelers have been rotating out several different defensive players at the gunner spot opposite wide receiver Darrius Heyward-Bey so far this season so that’s perhaps one area on special teams that Sutton might perhaps be able to contribute. Additionally, it’s important to remember that Sutton had a nice resume in college as a punt returner.
“They [the Steelers] brought it up,” Sutton said during his post-selection conference call when asked about the possibility of him returning punts for the team. “That’s going to be a big part of it as well. Hopefully I get the opportunity to do that as well.”
Steelers general manager Kevin Colbert also made sure to highlight Sutton’s return ability during the team’s post draft wrap-up press conference earlier in the year.
“He has also done some punt returning,” Colbert said when talking about the selection of the Tennessee product.
While Sutton only returned six punts for 32 yards for Tennessee during the 2016 season, that was likely a result of him missing several games with an ankle injury. He did, however, return a total of 45 punts during his college career for 657 yards and four touchdowns. In fact, Sutton finished the 2015 season as the FBS’ leading punt returner as he averaged 18.7 yards per return on 25 opportunities and two of those he returned for touchdowns.
The Steelers haven’t had much success this season when it comes to punt returns as wide receivers Antonio Brown and Eli Rogers have collectively returned 13 of them for 68 yards with a long of 15 yards in addition to fair-catching 11 others. Rogers, by the way, hasn’t returned a punt since Week 3 when he muffed an opportunity.
Would Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin actually allow a rookie defensive player to return punts during the second half of the season? While it’s hard to answer that question right now, it’s worth noting that the Steelers haven’t used a defensive player as a punt returner since 2007 when then-cornerback Allen Rossum returned 36 of them for 232 yards during the regular season.
Sutton, by the way, did have one punt fair catch during the preseason and that came in the team’s preseason finale against the Carolina Panthers and prior to him re-aggravating his hamstring injury that ultimately landed him on the team’s Reserve/Injured list.