Rookie Terrell Edmunds' on-job training continues with Steelers
Sean Davis had the type of start to his Pittsburgh Steelers career in 2016 the team envisioned for rookie Terrell Edmunds this season.
The Steelers took their time before putting Davis on the field at strong safety. He began the season playing nickel cornerback in subpackages, and it wasn’t until after a few games he took snaps at his natural position behind starter Robert Golden.
By Week 10, Davis had progressed enough to the point where the Steelers felt comfortable starting him.
Edmunds, though, has enjoyed no such apprenticeship in his inaugural NFL season. He is expected to make his fourth consecutive start and fifth in six games in place of veteran strong safety Morgan Burnett on Sunday when the Steelers visit the Cincinnati Bengals.
“We’ve thrown a lot on him. His plate is really full,” said Davis, now the team’s free safety. “He’s playing top-notch guys. We are asking him to do a lot. He’s adjusting well and playing well.”
Edmunds is coming off arguably the best game of his young career. In the Steelers’ 41-17 win over the Atlanta Falcons, he had seven tackles, which ranked second on the team, and he wasn’t beaten on any long passing plays. He allowed four completions on six targets, but those passes gained all of 15 yards.
Edmunds also played every snap for the third consecutive game and has logged more playing time than any defensive back on the roster this season except for Davis.
“The journey sometimes is a learning process, and sometimes it’s on-the-job training,” coach Mike Tomlin said. “So when you think about a guy like Edmunds, he’s getting on-the-job training and having to deliver a winning performance at the same time.
“I believe he’s up to the task. He’s a talented young guy. He’s hard-working, but at the same time, he respects his lack of experience. And you see that in terms of his preparation and the way he leans on veteran players.”
Davis is one such veteran. He said he purposely sits next to Edmunds in team meetings so he can help with any questions.
“I’d rather him learn from my mistakes than see him make the same mistakes that I made,” Davis said. “I’m always rapping to him to try to get him the insight on what to do, what not to do. I feel like we’re not getting better if we make the same mistakes twice, even if it’s different people, different situations.
“I’ve been there, done that, so I want him to learn from me.”
The Steelers have asked Edmunds to play inside the box and also set up deep off the line of scrimmage. He has covered receivers, tight ends and running backs. He also can play hybrid linebacker as part of a seven-defensive backs package, but Burnett’s injury has limited its usage.
“He’s learning the language a little bit better and where we want him a little better,” defensive coordinator Keith Butler said. “As a rookie, it’s hard to come in and dominate the league. You’re not going to do it.”
Edmunds hasn’t been immune to the ups and downs most rookies have. For his part, he’s trying to show he’s capable of handling the responsibility the Steelers have given him while Burnett continues to recover from a groin injury.
“I feel as if I’ve learned enough where it’s been a smooth transition,” Edmunds said. “I don’t really know their gameplan (for playing time entering the season) because people end up getting injured so we have to rotate a lot, shuffle a lot in the DB room. We haven’t found that true mold of what our secondary can be. At the same time, whoever is out there has to hold it down.”
The challenge for Edmunds this week will be building on his performance against the Falcons while also helping the secondary slow a Bengals offense averaging 30.6 points. He could be asked to help cornerback Joe Haden blanket star wide receiver A.J. Green or perhaps former Pitt and Clairton player Tyler Boyd on the other side.
“Every week you play against big-time guys who make big-time plays,” Edmunds said. “You have to be on your stuff. If you’re not up to it, there’s going to be a big gash play, and they’ll find somebody else to do the job.”
Joe Rutter is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Joe at firstname.lastname@example.org or via Twitter @tribjoerutter.