2023 Steelers Training Camp Preview: The Cornerbacks

It’s hard to believe but the Pittsburgh Steelers 2023 Training Camp is right around the corner. As we countdown the days until camp begins, SCU will highlight each position group detailing the players who will be competing for a spot on the Steelers’ final 53-man roster at the end of this Summer.

With a lot of focus on the Steelers future on the offensive side of the ball, there was a momentous shift on the defensive side as well. Looking back from a few years earlier, the defensive line and linebackers groups look drastically different, but another set of players also received a makeover this offseason: the cornerbacks.

From drafting Artie Burns in the first round of the 2016 NFL Draft to signing Joe Haden, this unit is no longer the same. Burns never panned out. Haden wasn’t re-signed last season and subsequently retired.

Mike Hilton, an undrafted find who played nickel cornerback, has been with the Bengals for a couple of seasons now, and the last bastion of the previous group, Cameron Sutton, was plucked away in free agency by the Detroit Lions. The Steelers also cut ties with former third round pick Justin Layne after last camp, and release journeyman Ahkello Witherspoon this summer.

That leaves a mostly new group in place to pick up the pieces, and potentially perform better. Here’s the names and faces you need to know.

Embed from Getty Images

Patrick Peterson

Considered by many to be a future first ballot Hall of Famer, the knock on the Steelers signing Peterson is that he turned 33 years of age a couple of weeks ago. So can a 33-year-old cornerback still hang with the big boys of the NFL?

That’s part of the bet Pittsburgh is making by bringing in Peterson, the fifth-overall pick of the 2011 NFL Draft who formerly flirted with playing for Mike Tomlin in the past. Now he gets his chance after having spent two seasons in Minnesota.

Peterson is a three-time All-Pro and eight-time Pro Bowler, but hasn’t seen either accolade since the 2018 season. Yet, his 2022 season was his finest since then, picking off five passes and defending 15 more.

Teams tested Peterson and they will continue to do so in Pittsburgh. However, “P2” was signed to potentially flirt with a shift to playing a safety role as well as mentor one the Steelers latest draft picks.

Embed from Getty Images

Joey Porter Jr.

The son of Steelers legend Joey Porter was one of the top cornerback prospects in the 2023 NFL Draft. Pittsburgh parlayed a trade of WR Chase Claypool to the Chicago Bears for the 32nd overall selection that would end up being Porter.

A lot is riding on the 22-year-old to ascend to greatness, as the Steelers have a terrible track record at drafting corners, but also haven’t traditionally used high draft picks on them either.

Porter finished his 2022 season at Penn State with 11 pass deflections but failed to snag an interception. The Steelers will work on his splash play techniques while they hope his man-cover skills, and his bloodline, help him ascend to being their lockdown corner of the future.

Embed from Getty Images

Levi Wallace

A free agent signing from 2022, Wallace had a sporadic regular season that saw him competing for starting reps with Sutton and Witherspoon, before coming into his own.

Wallace would end up playing a majority of snaps in the secondary throughout the season, ending the year with four interceptions: three of those following the Steelers bye week turnaround.

He’s a dependable CB2 who could potentially start alongside Peterson when the season begins. In a contract year, he’ll also be looking over his shoulder at the younger Porter, who the staff could be eager to see get more time as winter approaches.

This isn’t new territory for Wallace, as he not only did the same last season, but was also in a similar position during his four seasons with the Buffalo Bills where he would fill in due to injuries. Still, he’s a steady hand that the Steelers are better off having on the field – or lying in wait – than not.

Embed from Getty Images

Chandon Sullivan

An undrafted veteran out of Georgia State, Sullivan carved his way into playing 71 games for three teams over the course of the last five seasons. He will be counted on to replace Arthur Maulet (who was released this offseason) as the team’s slot corner.

Sullivan should fit in fine for what the Steelers value in a nickel corner, as he’s been stout in the run game (60 total, 45 solo tackles last season) and has a knack for breaking up passes (7 in 2022) or creating splash plays (3 interceptions in 2021).

Also note, Sullivan played with Peterson in Minnesota last season, which should also help with on-field communication early in the season.

Embed from Getty Images

Others in camp

I feel a little dirty lumping everyone else into a group like this and not highlighting them individually, but the truth is that the top four names are locks, while there may only be one or two more spots available for everyone else.

One of the names to pencil in as a roster hopeful for one of those spots is seventh round pick Cory Trice. A Big Ten product out of Purdue, Trice is one of the larger corners the Steelers have snagged in recent years at 6’3” tall and a slender 206 lbs. He fell deep into the draft due to injury concerns but has all of the physical tools to be a developmental sleeper pick.

Embed from Getty Images

James Pierre, who made the roster the last three seasons after being an undrafted pickup, will battle for one of the final spots as well, but largely projects as a special teams contributor these days rather than a firm backup to the starters. He will be on the hot seat.

Luq Barcoo has bounced around the NFL since 2020, but found footing as a highly sought after prospect in the XFL, in which he made the league’s All-XFL team this spring. He will be Pierre’s primary competition.

Duke Dawson, Madre Harper, and Chris Wilcox round out the other names headed to camp. Dawson is listed as a four-year vet but has struggled to stay healthy. Harper is another journeyman looking to stick with one team, while Wilcox has similarly ping-ponged around several teams. They will all have an uphill battle to make it beyond training camp.

Suggested articles from our sponsors