Steelers rookie CB Burns struggles to catch up amid injury-shortened camp
Steelers cornerback Artie Burns was direct and to the point about his development three weeks into training camp: “I'm kind of behind.”
That's not what you want to hear from a highly touted rookie mere hours from breaking training camp at St. Vincent — a pretty much wasted camp.
The Steelers used a first-round pick on a cornerback for the first time in almost 20 years in April when they drafted the junior out of Miami (Fla.) on the assumption he was going to need a solid training camp and preseason to contribute early during his rookie season.
After taking part in only four full practices and none over the past two weeks while nursing a left quad strain, Burns' rookie campaign is not off to a rousing start.
“It is kind of frustrating,” Burns said Monday as he took part in practice on a limited basis for the first time since Aug. 4.
Burns did not participate in scrimmage drills Monday. He worked out on Chuck Noll Field instead.
“I'm back, I'm feeling good, just easing my way back into it and getting the cobwebs back out,” Burns said.
Burns left practice early Aug. 3 with a quad strain but returned the next day. After getting torched by Antonio Brown early in practice, Burns left and has not returned to the field in full capacity.
Steelers coach Mike Tomlin said he is curious to see how long it takes Burns to get back up to speed.
“It depends on the guy,” Tomlin said. “It depends on their ability to learn from others, watching and so forth. So we'll learn that about him as he comes off of this thing. Because, really, it's different from guy to guy.
“Some people are capable of watching and absorbing experience through watching others. Some people have to physically take reps.”
Burns said all he has been able to do is take mental reps while waiting for his quad to feel better.
“Mental reps, weight room workouts and still coming out here and trying to get warmed up,” Burns said. “I wasn't able to do many physical things.”
Burns is expected to be a full participant at Tuesday's final open practice. He said he is unsure whether he will play in Thursday's second preseason game against the Philadelphia Eagles at Heinz Field.
“I don't know, we'll see,” Burns said. “I'll take it day by day and see how I am feeling the day before.”
A healthy and productive Burns could be what the secondary needs.
The Steelers were figuring the combination of 10-year veteran William Gay, Ross Cockrell and last year's second-round pick, Senquez Golson, would hold down the position until Burns is ready to take over.
Those plans quickly changed.
Golson is out for three to four months after undergoing Lisfranc foot surgery last week, leaving the secondary paper thin.
The injury also forced the Steelers to move rookie second-round pick Sean Davis from safety to slot cornerback.
With Burns back in the mix, the Steelers have more options. Gay could move back into the slot, where he has played the past couple of years in sub-package defenses, and Burns could go outside.
But Burns has a long way to go to get to that point.
Before he was injured, the rookie was taking his lumps trying to cover Brown on a daily basis.
“Artie has potential to be special,” Brown said. “He is a corner who has a lot of detail. He just needs to work on some little things. I have been in his head in so far as what he can do to get better.”
“He's learning,” defensive backs coach Carnell Lake said hours before Burns injured his quad two weeks ago. “He is taking his lumps out there, but there is improvement, and we want that to continue day-to-day.”
For Burns, the waiting and watching have been difficult.
“It's kind of tough, but I have to stay patient and wait for my opportunity because if I get impatient, I might lose my opportunity when it shows,” Burns said. “I have to be cool and collected.”
And healthy, too.
Mark Kaboly is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or via Twitter @MarkKaboly_Trib.