In his second season with the Steelers, cornerback Artie Burns produced one interception in 16 games.
In the first three days of training camp this summer, Burns had two.
Sure, it’s only practice and the stakes aren’t nearly as high, but Burns is hoping his early success is a sign of things to come once the games start to count in September.
“It’s my third year,” said Burns, who left practice early Monday with a minor injury. “It’s time to really start chipping in and show what I can do.”
For the second training camp in a row, Burns has engaged in single coverage with All-Pro wide receiver Antonio Brown. This year, Burns is starting to win his share of the matchups.
Take the first practice of camp. Late in the session, during 11-on-11 drills, Burns stepped in front of a Ben Roethlisberger pass intended for Brown and took off down the sideline for a touchdown had the play counted.
Burns heard Roethlisberger yell “Nooooo” when he released the pass.
“He threw it late, and that helped me get more in front of the ball,” he said.
The second pick for Burns came Saturday in the practice-opening “Seven Shots” drill that simulates a 2-point conversion try. Burns jumped the route and stepped in front of a Landry Jones pass intended for Brown.
“There’s a certain time in the play where you feel like it’s coming to an end,” Burns said. “I felt that and took my shot. Some times, the guy may miss or could have broken out. This time, he broke in, and I made a play on the ball.”
Having the ability to recognize the quarterback’s read and jump the routes comes with experience, Burns said.
Coach Mike Tomlin, however, tempered his enthusiasm.
“It’s very early in the process,” he said. “He has had a good couple of days, but that’s to be expected. This ain’t his first time up at Latrobe, so it’s a reasonable expectation for his performance.”
The Steelers would like for Burns to become more consistent in his play. Not only did his interceptions drop from three as a rookie, he had some issues with his tackling and giving up some deep completions. He didn’t enter camp in jeopardy of losing his starting job, but he is fully aware the Steelers have 2017 draft picks Cam Sutton and Brian Allen waiting for an opportunity.
“I just want to get better every year,” Burn said. “I feel like me and the coaches want to see more progress. Me getting my hands on more balls is progress.”
The Steelers finish tied for ninth with 16 interceptions in 2017. Cornerbacks produced six, led by slot corner Mike Hilton’s two. Burns, Joe Haden, Coty Sensabaugh and the since-departed William Gay had one each.
“Definitely,” Burns said when asked if the corners need to make more interceptions. “Turnovers help the offense, gets them more possessions and gets us off the field.”
Burns also would like to cut down the number of big plays the secondary allowed last season. Only two teams gave up more pass plays of 40 yards or longer than the Steelers, who yielded 13 such plays, eight of which were at least 50 yards.
The mostly costly deep pass against Burns came in the 45-42 AFC divisional playoff loss to Jacksonville. In the fourth quarter with the Steelers trailing by seven points, Jaguars quarterback Blake Bortles lobbed a 45-yard completion to Keelan Allen to the Steelers 3. Cole got inside of Burns, who received late help from Haden to no avail.
Leonard Fournette scored on a 3-yard run one play later to give Jacksonville a 35-21 lead with 10:34 left.
“That’s what we live with,” Burns said.
In training camp, he will keep matching up with Brown whenever possible so he doesn’t have to live with as many mistakes this season. He was tested again Monday, with Brown regaining control of some of the matchups.
“I joined this sport to be the best,” Burns said, “and I’ve got to keep working to be the best.”
Joe Rutter is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Joe at [email protected] or via Twitter @tribjoerutter.