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Breakfast with Benz

Tim Benz: Morgan Burnett's success with Steelers hinges on expectations

| Friday, June 29, 2018, 6:54 a.m.
Pittsburgh Steelers safety Morgan Burnett (42) during an NFL football practice, Wednesday, June 6, 2018, in Pittsburgh. (AP Photo/ Photo/Keith Srakocic)
Pittsburgh Steelers safety Morgan Burnett (42) during an NFL football practice, Wednesday, June 6, 2018, in Pittsburgh. (AP Photo/ Photo/Keith Srakocic)

I'm a big fan of the Steelers' acquisition of former Green Bay safety Morgan Burnett. Apparently, my opinion is not universally accepted.

Bleacher Report did a profile of one player per team in the NFL most likely to disappoint during the 2018 season. Their choice for the Steelers was Burnett.

Here is their opinion as to why:

"The ninth-year veteran was a highly versatile player in his prime but became more of a linebacker-depth, run-stopping safety over the last few seasons with the Green Bay Packers. That's an important skill in Pittsburgh's defense, especially since the team is trying to find the best way to replace hyper-athletic linebacker Ryan Shazier. But if fans are expecting Burnett to perform multiple tasks in a hybrid defense, they may be in for a surprise."

I gotta ask: Who in Pittsburgh is anticipating Burnett to do that? Are there many Steelers fans expecting that?

That's kind of like writing: "If Penguins fans are expecting Jack Johnson to be an upgrade for Justin Schultz or Kris Letang on the power play, they may be in for a surprise."

Or, "If Pirates fans are expecting Sean Rodriguez to hit over .200, they may be in for a surprise."

OK. I've gone too far. I can see that right away.

Near as I can tell, though, the Steelers' plans are exactly what Bleacher Report is describing. They want Burnett to be a stout run-stopper in early down-and-distance situations. They want him to patrol the middle-third of the field on passing downs like Shazier used to do.

Meanwhile, the deep-middle/over-the-top duties will fall to other players such as first-round draft pick Terrell Edmunds.

Yes, part of Burnett's versatility is that he can play free safety if need be. His highly touted mental acuity and verbal communication skills would be particularly useful at that position. But it has long been clear that the Steelers are aware that his athleticism has waned enough over nine years that he is not best suited for that role on a regular basis.

Burnett can probably play free safety in a pinch. But every indication has been that Keith Butler would prefer Burnett do exactly what this post is suggesting he do: Live or die with the consequences of putting others in the more rangy, deep coverage responsibilities.

The bet here is that Sean Davis gets the first crack at free safety, then maybe Edmunds or Cam Sutton making the move from cornerback before they go to Burnett.

Trust me. The Steelers didn't bring Burnett on board to the tune of $14 million just to put him in a position to fail.

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