Steelers CBs Steal Rookie Spotlight

A pair of mid-round cornerbacks stood out on the first day of the Pittsburgh Steelers' rookie minicamp.

PITTSBURGH -- One of the disappointments of many fans of the Pittsburgh Steelers out of the recent draft was the lack of emphasis placed on defensive backs.

Particularly after what Tom Brady and the New England Patriots did to them in the last game.

But for one day -- albeit the first day of rookie minicamp -- two rookie cornerbacks, third-rounder Cameron Sutton and fifth-rounder Brian Allen, looked like premium picks.

Don't take that to mean the top picks were disappointing.

* First-rounder T.J. Watt is a thin and nimble 250-pounder who should be able to carry 10-15 more pounds. 

* Second-rounder JuJu Smith-Schuster showed all of the athletic characteristics of a starting NFL wide receiver. 

* Fourth-round quarterback Joshua Dobbs displayed a beautiful, fluid release of live spirals that stood out in stark contrast Friday.

But it was the rookie cornerbacks who made the plays, each causing gasps of surprise from onlookers.

Sutton actually made two. The first was a break-up of a deep ball to Smith-Schuster. The second was a hard break while transitioning forward out of his backpedal. He closed on receiver Marcus Tucker with a blur of speed and dove to bat the pass away. Mike Tomlin, standing a few feet away, exhorted his new "Number 20!"

"Just flying around," Sutton said after the workout. "See ball, get ball. If it's in the air, just have to have the mentality to attack the ball. It's our ball every time it's in the air, or any time it's out there on the field."

Sutton did add, "Next time, catch it, though, instead of just breaking it up."

Sutton played through his final season at Tennessee with a broken bone in his lower right leg. He stayed with the team, went to every meeting, every practice, and returned for the final three games. He wasn't 100 percent but never worried about putting less-than-sparkling "tape" out there before the draft. 

"Not at all. Not at all," he said. "Just going out there doing what I love, doing it for who I love and being out there with my teammates at Tennessee. That's all I could ask for."

Sutton finished school in December and was back to 100 percent for Senior Bowl week. 

"I've been feeling really good since then," he said. "I'm definitely feeling really good now."

His leadership and intelligence were obvious on the field and off it on this first day. He arrived as advertised by a college coaching staff that raved about Sutton's thorough understanding of teammates' assignments and responsibilities during games.

"It makes the game easier for you," Sutton said. "We're all tied to a string out there on the field, all 11 guys. You're able to put guys in different situations to make plays as well as help yourself out. Your knowing the calls, knowing what to expect out there on the field, studying film and knowing what the offense is going to give you out there on the field, it just makes the game slow down for you and doesn't make you have to worry about so much out there."

Sutton, no doubt, will be a quicker study than Allen, who's still learning a new position. But the 6-foot-3 Allen showed in his first practice what he can do with his long 34-inch arms. Allen used every fraction of that length to pluck an interception of a Dobbs pass out of the air while diving backward and reaching with one hand. 

Those who saw the interception by Kevin King, of the University of Washington, in a video made popular on "draft twitter," can fairly compare the two plays.

Allen has seen the video of his friend's interception and was looking forward to watching the practice film of his own.

"I always say the ones you see corners drop most of the time are the easiest ones," Allen said. "The receiver falls down and you break and you've got a wide-open catch, you get so anxious you drop it. It seems the hardest ones are the easiest ones to catch."

Allen had to change positions in 2015 because he dropped too many passes as a receiver. After playing the position all his young life, he had worked his way up the depth chart and was dismayed at first by the move to cornerback.

"I wasn't too happy about it because my heart was always with wide receiver," he said. "But when I made the switch, got over there with some of my defensive back coaches, they made the transition for me smoother. I owe them the credit because of where I'm at today."

And his eyes are focused forward.

"I'm a corner. I love it," he said. "I made the switch and since then I've been working every day with my coaches, competing against some of my teammates, talking to some of my teammates who are in the league. They give me a different perspective and it's made it smoother. I'm happy where I'm at."

There aren't many 6-3 corners, but Allen's in the land of the original king-sized cornerback. 

Does Allen know his name?

"No," he said.

Mel Blount.

"OK, yeah, Mel Blount, yeah. He could run too," Allen said. "I'm just happy to be here and competing with some of these guys. I thank Coach Tomlin for giving me this opportunity. I'm just happy to be playing football again. It seems like it's so long since my last game in December. Just being out there competing with these guys is a dream come true."

(To read The Insiders Look At Steelers Rookiesclick here.)

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