NFL preseason debut ‘looked a little big’ for Steelers CB Justin Layne, who vows to adjust
Justin Layne acknowledged nerves all day Friday leading to his NFL preseason debut.
“Oh yeah,” the Pittsburgh Steelers rookie cornerback said of being nervous. “Everything about it — walking into the stadium, driving in, checking in — all that. It’s crazy.
“But hey, I got to learn.”
By his appraisal and that of his coach, Layne still has plenty to learn if he is to become a viable NFL defensive back. According to Pro Football Focus, eight of the nine passes at Layne were completed, gaining 80 yards and a touchdown.
Layne and coach Mike Tomlin seem comfortable knowing growing pains are part of the process for the third-round pick from Michigan State.
Rookie cornerback Justin Layne struggled in his preseason debut.
Overall defensive coverage grade of 44.9.
On 9 targets he allowed 8 receptions for 80 yards and a touchdown. https://t.co/LtnElGUmhO
— PFF PIT Steelers (@PFF_Steelers) August 11, 2019
“I felt like I had fun even though I messed up,” Layne said after the Steelers beat the Tampa Bay Buccaneers on Friday. “It’s football. You are going to mess up some plays.”
Especially when you appear in 64 of them as Layne did against the Bucs. Only three players on either team — and only one defensive player — played more.
Tomlin said that was because four Steelers cornerbacks were out because of injury. That meant Layne, who has been a third-team outside corner during camp, instantly became a starter.
“It looked a little big for him at times,” Tomlin said Tuesday. “We talked openly about that today. … I’m sure it’s going to be valuable experience for him but (it was) not necessarily a positive experience for him.”
The Steelers coaching staff seems to be placing an emphasis on coaching Layne, who was the third player they drafted but who could be called a project.
Senior defensive assistant/secondary Teryl Austin often singles Layne out during practices at Saint Vincent. Layne said Tomlin approached him before Friday’s game and said, “You’re going to learn today.”
So, in starting and playing into the fourth quarter, what did Layne learn?
“Put my head on people,” he said. “It’s not college anymore, (so) just relax a little bit. I felt like the last couple series I was more relaxed, and I was more myself and in my state. But at first I felt like it was normal jitters every rookie has.”
Getting the start allowed Layne to face a starting NFL quarterback and go in coverage against veteran pro receivers. That might have hindered his performance Friday, but in the long run the Steelers believe it should benefit Layne.
“In the NFL, it’s just a lot faster,” Layne said. “I just have to adjust. It is an adjustment thing.
“I don’t feel like I have to rush into it. It’s just something I have to keep working on and building on.”
Chris Adamski is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Chris by email at [email protected] or via Twitter .