(Photo by Joe Sargent/Getty Images)
Steelers senior defensive assistant/secondary coach, Teryl Austin, told the media yesterday that they're using the three-day minicamp to assess defensive backs who can play the slot cornerback position and replace Mike Hilton, who signed with the Bengals in free agency this offseason.
Cam Sutton moving to the slot when the Steelers go to their sub-packages is one option, but defensive backs like Antoine Brooks, Shakur Brown and Arthur Maulet are also capable of playing inside.
“I know Cam can play inside, so right now he’s working outside and we’re letting these other guys work inside to see what we have,” Austin said via Gerry Dulac of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. “We want to give them as many opportunities to learn and see where they can go. If we don’t feel real comfortable with what we have, we’ll address changes at that time. I know Cam wouldn’t need a lot of reps to move inside and help us.”
If the Steelers were to move Sutton inside when they go to their sub-packages, James Pierre or Justin Layne are the favorites to replace him at outside cornerback.
“I like our young guys,” Austin said. “I like James Pierre, I like J-Layne. We have some young guys, a couple free agent guys, I’d like to see compete. Ability-wise, James and J-Layne have the ability to play in this league and be quality players. It just depends how fast and how far they progress in the next four or five weeks.
“I’m comfortable there, but I’m also aware if we have way to better our team and it happens to be an outside guy, I’m more than happy to have him, as well.”
After the Steelers' second mandatory minicamp practice yesterday, Mike Tomlin was asked about what sort of qualities he looks for at the cornerback position.
"The most distinguishing trait to me in terms of playing inside is physicality or the willingness or ability to be physical and play against bigger people and in those close quarter spaces," Tomlin responded. "I think we all would agree that that was a distinguishing trait that Mike Hilton displayed. No one’s really been given an opportunity to display that based on how we’ve worked to this point. I think that that’s going to be such a significant factor in determining who occupies that role for us; their ability to play physical, their ability to play in that box, and be effective run players and blitzers and so forth. Some of those traits are somewhat unique when it comes to defensive back play."
Tomlin was also asked about why is it so valuable to have a physical presence at the nickel cornerback position in their defense.
"I think just in general, at least from our perspective, I can’t speak globally, we want to be able to apply pressure in all circumstances," Tomlin said. "And we are not going to let offensive personnel groups or groupings diminish our personality. Everyone knows in our base defense we like to bring our backers and so forth. So when we go to sub, that is just an extension of that, so we are exchanging one bird for another, if you will, or one chess piece for another. Regardless of the personnel group we are in, regardless of the personnel group that an offense is in, we are coming because that is our personality and we covet players who display those skills, and [Mike Hilton] was certainly one."
Replacing Hilton in the slot will not be an easy task, but the opportunity for a defensive back to step into a new role is there for the taking.
“I think it comes to guys stepping up and going to have a lot of opportunities for guys like Antoine Brooks, for Justin Layne, for James Pierre,” Joe Haden said. “These dudes are going to have a really, really good opportunity to be able to step in there and make significant jumps in their career."