Cameron Sutton shows off his versatility in Steelers’ secondary
In the slot. As the dime linebacker. At outside cornerback, strong safety or free.
If it’s in the secondary, Cameron Sutton has played it during his two full seasons plus one preseason with the Pittsburgh Steelers.
“Any position feels like home,” Sutton said before practice Wednesday at Saint Vincent.
Sutton has had plenty of homes, even during this training camp. The 2017 third-round pick has served as the dime DB and the second-team nickel, and he’s been on outside corner with the third team.
Sutton played 49 of the Steelers’ 94 defensive snaps last week in their preseason victory against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. He started at outside corner and moved to nickel in the second half for the final two series he played.
“I thought he did some solid things,” coach Mike Tomlin said this week. “He’s done some solid things out here playing on the outside. I think just a description of his performance and contributions to this point have been really solid. His versatility is really showing. He’s been above the line outside and inside, and I think that’s useful for him in terms of earning and establishing a role — and obviously useful for us.”
Tomlin’s official company line is Sutton’s role is not yet defined, and because there are 3½ weeks until the regular season begins, plenty can happen in terms of injury or performance between now and then.
Based on practice reps on Chuck Noll Field, playing time during the preseason game and Tomlin’s praise, Sutton’s role looks to be the top backup to all the cornerbacks, with the dime role his own.
With the Steelers, like most NFL teams, increasingly turning to dime packages, that’s not an insignificant part to play.
“Any role is fine with me,” Sutton said. “I just come here ready to work. That’s pretty much it.”
Does Sutton have a favorite position?
“No, I don’t.
“At the end of the day, it’s secondary,” Sutton said moments earlier. “So, it’s all the same things. Guys can play any position out there, and everyone is interchangeable. But it’s times that even when I might be at corner I might have to fill a certain gap as if I am a dime ’backer. Or at nickel, I might have a certain fit, or a certain leverage where I might have to move from playing inside to outside. So you know, it just depends on the coverage and the details of the defense.”
Sutton can provide value to the Steelers as a utility defensive back, especially with established veterans Joe Haden and Steven Nelson at outside corner and Mike Hilton having shown over the past two years he can be a quality nickel option.
But is he developing a reputation as the proverbial jack of all trades but master of none? Third-round picks entering their third NFL seasons, ideally, should be every-down players. And despite Sutton filling in adequately when given an expanded role at times in 2017-18, the Steelers have signed Haden and Nelson and drafted cornerbacks Brian Allen and Justin Layne since Sutton was drafted.
Sorry, Mike Hilton and Coty Sensabaugh, you’re apparently just not nasty enough in the eyes of Mike Tomlin. Enter Artie Burns and Cameron Sutton. https://t.co/u7zlxXwWM7
— Tribune-ReviewSports (@TribSports) December 16, 2018
With Sutton eligible for an extension by this time next year and unrestricted free agency 18 months away, capturing an every-down role could be beneficial to his career.
Sutton takes the high road, though, saying his favorite role is the one the coaches tell him to serve on a certain day or play.
The biggest question mark regarding Sutton’s place in the pecking order seems to be if he or Artie Burns is the No. 3 option on the outside should something happen to the well-paid starting duo of Haden and Nelson.
Sutton said he hasn’t been told where he will be deployed Saturday in preseason game No. 2 against the Kansas City Chiefs. The playing time last week was in part a function of four cornerbacks not playing because of injury or protection from injury.
“I just watch the film, learn from things,” Sutton said, “and help translate and correlate them week-in and week-out, and come ready to work each and every day.”
Chris Adamski is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Chris by email at [email protected] or via Twitter .