While this game was the much-anticipated debut of several players, one of the less-publicized was that of Pittsburgh Steelers rookie third-round cornerback Cameron Sutton, who suffered a hamstring injury early on in training camp and has taken the past two weeks gradually working himself back into practice.
I believe that he started getting contact work in team drills late last week, and clearly continued to do so throughout this week, which enabled him to get on the field and showcase the talents that the Steelers saw in him when they decided to take him with the 94th-overall pick in the 2017 NFL Draft.
It was not until the second half that he was able to get himself into the game, but it didn’t take long before he made an impact on the field. The defense opened the half with their starting corners still in the game, in their 3-4 alignment on first and second down. Sutton checked in on third down in a dime package with both himself and Mike Hilton on the field.
On the play, Sutton and his target in coverage, the receiver Natson, were close to the line and in tight on the left side of the offensive line. The receiver broke sharply to the right sideline, but the rookie cornerback did a nice job of trailing him. While the quarterback was under pressure, Sutton was able to dive in front of the receiver to bat the pass down, something that he showed a lot during the spring.
On the second play of the Steelers’ following defensive drive, the rookie—now ‘starting’ on the outside with the second-team personnel on the field—showed well against the run, coming off a stalk block off the right defensive edge as the running back tried to bounce it in his direction. He came in and knifed the back down, dropping for a loss of three yards. He and Hilton also joined in on the stop on third down after a three-yard gain to end that four-play drive, the third of which was a sack. Two tackles against the run on one four-play drive, both of which went for a ‘win’ for the defense, is certainly what the Steelers would like to see.
The rookie did have one negative moment later in the game. On the first drive of the fourth quarter—and extended touchdown drive that lasted about seven minutes, starting in the third quarter—Natson did get the better of him out of the slot, winning to the inside of the field for an eight-yard gain on third and six.
Still, despite that one loss, initial impressions on the rookie’s debut are positive, and it was also good to see him immediately working with the second-team unit, alongside Coty Sensabaugh as the opposite outside cornerback.
The fact that he also got work both outside and in the slot is also an encouraging sign, but it remains to be seen how quickly he can force his name in to the discussion for playing time on defense.