Tim Benz: Cam Sutton is Steelers secondary’s man of mystery
He’s not exactly Austin Powers. But he is the Steelers’ man of mystery.
He could be a starting corner on the outside.
He could be the main guy in the slot.
Or the free safety over the top.
Or just a reserve that will help out on special teams or in dime situations, at most.
Second-year defensive back Cam Sutton is a total X-Factor in the secondary for the Steelers.
“It feels really good,” Sutton said with a smile. “Obviously they have confidence in me to make plays on the ball and be consistent.”
The reason we don’t know what Sutton is going to do is because, as of now, the Steelers don’t know what they have in him. They think he has talent, versatility, coachability and smarts.
Only six weeks of game action last season because of a hamstring problem prevented the team’s ability to get a gauge.
Also, Sutton is blocked at multiple positions in the secondary. That may seem strange for a player with promise, given that the Steelers defense finished 22nd in yards per pass attempt allowed.
However, the Steelers don’t want to give up on 2016 first- and second-round draft choices Artie Burns at cornerback and Sean Davis at safety. Plus, they drafted Terrell Edmunds and Marcus Allen at safety this year.
Sutton is more experienced at corner. When he was called upon in the second half of the Bengals game last year in Cincinnati, he helped calm that game down and acquitted himself nicely against A.J. Green. He also had impressive moments against the Packers, Ravens and Patriots.
But depending on how Davis handles a potential position switch to free safety, there may be more of a need for Sutton to help out there. There are concerns Davis may not have the range to play center field. With his natural corner cover skills, Sutton could help in that regard.
“It doesn’t matter, so long as you have an understanding of the game,” Sutton said. “From there, it’s just finding the ball and making plays on the ball.”
At only 5-foot-11, 186 pounds, Sutton could get exposed in run situations. So his role might be limited to passing situations. With the Steelers’ plans to use multiple safeties all over the field, Sutton may still see lots of action at free safety.
“Wherever they need me — corner, nickel, dime, whatever — I’m ready to go and available,” Sutton said.
Supplanting Burns on the outside, or even Mike Hilton as the slot corner, isn’t out of the question. But in order for that to happen, they might have to lose their jobs as much as Sutton wins it away from them. There was plenty to like from Hilton after a surprisingly good season in that specialty role.
Burns has been up and down in his two years, but his coaches feel there is a deeper well to tap — while trying to prove he was worthy of a first-round draft choice.
So in the meantime, Sutton will just have to be a jack-of-all-trades before he’s allowed to attempt mastering one.
“I feel for those dudes,” cornerback Joe Haden said of other secondary players who are moving to various assignments. “Nickel and corner are completely different in terms of calls and blitzing and different techniques.”
Luckily for the Steelers, Sutton appears to have the aptitude to handle that. The good thing about having a player like that is he could fill voids that may exist due to injury.
“Guys are taught the whole system,” Sutton explained. “It’s not just that you are labeled a corner or a safety. Everybody has the responsibility of knowing what the guys around you are doing.
“Everyone is tied to the same string.”
For now, Sutton is just going to have to live in that netherworld somewhere between “break glass in case of emergency” and “understudy waiting in the wings.”
Thus adding to his “man of mystery” status.