Steelers' top picks look to contribute in secondary
LATROBE, Pa. (AP) Pittsburgh Steelers rookie cornerback Artie Burns insists there's no pressure on him to step in immediately and try to win the starting job.
Burns, the team's first-round pick, is part of a young, revamped Steelers' secondary looking to improve after ranking 30th in the league in passing yards allowed last season. But he has been hampered by a nagging thigh injury in training camp, which will likely cause him to miss Friday's preseason opener against the Detroit Lions at Heinz Field.
''It doesn't matter if I start at all,'' Burns said. ''If it's going to come, it's going to come. I just have to be patient, work hard and when it's there, I have to make sure I take my opportunity, go out there and don't look back.''
The Steelers selected him No. 25 overall in April, the first time the team took a cornerback in the opening round since Chad Scott in 1997. Burns, a former Miami standout, led the ACC with six interceptions last season.
Steelers defensive backs coach Carnell Lake expects Burns to contribute to the defense at some point this season.
''When you draft a first-rounder you have high expectations, and it's no different for Artie,'' Lake said. ''It's up to Artie, ultimately, but we'll do everything we can to get him ready.''
Burns has frequently lined up opposite star wide receiver Antonio Brown during spring practices and again at training camp. He has struggled at times against the two-time All-Pro, but Lake thinks Burns will benefit with Brown as a training partner.
''I think it's great for Artie's development,'' Lake said. ''You can lose confidence quickly and it may hurt your game initially, but for Artie, he seems to enjoy the competition. He's taken some lumps that probably any rookie would against (Brown), but I like the way he approaches it.''
Brown said Burns has the tools to be a great cornerback if he works at it.
''It starts in practice and the film room,'' Brown said. ''He's not scared to compete and that's one thing I love about him. That's the attitude and approach you have to have if you want to help us win.''
Another rookie defensive back, second-round pick Sean Davis, has impressed early in training camp, though he left Wednesday's practice early and had an icepack on his left knee.
Davis, a former Maryland standout with position flexibility, has rotated at safety in addition to first-team slot cornerback after Senquenz Golson, the team's 2015 second-round pick, suffered a midfoot, or Lisfranc, injury that required surgery.
Coach Mike Tomlin is impressed with Davis' conditioning.
''He's one of the few rookies I've seen that really looks like he's come prepared from a conditioning standpoint,'' Tomlin said. ''I think that's the first place that allows him to grow and take extra reps, which accelerates the learning curve.''
Davis also hopes to accelerate the learning curve by spending additional time with Lake.
When Davis isn't taking snaps at safety or slot cornerback, he's behind the play, standing next to Lake, picking up pointers from the five-time Pro Bowler.
''Coach Lake is literally the best coach I ever had,'' Davis said. ''Even when we don't have meetings, I'm in coach Lake's ear.
''He's been there and done that, and he's teaching me, not only how the book does it, but the little things and techniques he knows from experience.''
Lake doesn't mind the additional on-field coaching sessions.
''It's always a good thing when they want to learn and have questions,'' Lake said. ''I'd rather have him there, talking about a particular play. It's good for his development.''
That will only help an evolving secondary looking for big contributions from Burns and Davis.
''They're coming along and progressing well,'' Lake said. ''Eventually, they're going to have to contribute and hopefully it's early.''