Justin Layne wants to increase interception numbers with Steelers
Big Ten offenses kept throwing the ball into Justin Layne’s coverage in 2018, and the Michigan State cornerback kept knocking it away.
Layne had 15 pass breakups in 2018, which was tied for the conference lead and ranked No. 10 in major college football.
As good as Layne was at deflecting passes, it led to an inevitable question after he left school with a year of eligibility remaining and met with NFL teams at the combine.
“ I’d probably say (they wanted to know) why I didn’t have that many touches on the ball as far as interceptions,” said Layne, a third-round pick of the Pittsburgh Steelers. “That was the main thing.”
Layne, who had one interception in his final season at Michigan State, had a ready-made answer.
“Because I was breaking them up,” he said.
After the Steelers tied a franchise single-season low with eight interceptions last season, they set about finding players who could create more turnovers, particularly in the secondary. Cornerback Steven Nelson was signed in free agency, and he had four interceptions among 15 passes defensed in 2018, his final season with the Kansas City Chiefs.
Layne had three interceptions in 34 games that included 26 starts in his three seasons at Michigan State. The Steelers believed Layne can turn his knack for being around the ball into interceptions, otherwise they would not have used one of their two third-round picks on him.
“I always hope I can help wherever I can,” Layne said. “I don’t want to say I’m going to come in and do whatever, but I definitely want to help in that area.”
At 6-foot-3, Layne provides a lengthy option on the outside once he learns the playbook and works his way into the defensive scheme. He also has played slot cornerback in the past and is open to filling any role in the secondary during his rookie year with the Steelers.
The first step came at rookie minicamp.
“Right now I want to show them I’m willing to get better,” Layne said. “I want to keep learning and getting better every day.”
Joe Rutter is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Joe by email at [email protected] or via Twitter .