Experience is the best teacher

Cam Sutton transitioned in his fifth season with the Steelers, from Swiss Army knife in the secondary to starter at cornerback opposite Joe Haden.

Perspective was gleaned along the way on how to play the game, and on how the game is played.

"It's like my first year in the league, almost," Sutton said. "I learned a lot, learned a bunch just from being able to actually see, really see the league for what it was.

"It's only going to make me better as a player, make me better as a leader."

Sutton started 16 regular-season games in 2021 (he missed the Oct. 10 victory against Denver), as well as the Steelers' 42-21 playoff loss at Kansas City.

He'd started just eight times over his first four seasons, when his primary role had been to play as an extra defensive back in sub-packages whenever and wherever he was needed.

The 1,089 defensive snaps Sutton participated in during the regular season this season almost matched the 1,166 he accrued between 2017-20. Sutton played 100 percent of the defensive snaps in 10 of the 16 regular-season games in which he appeared and was in at least 99 percent of the time on defense 14 times.

He was on the field for 64 of 65 defensive snaps against the Chiefs (98 percent).

And he's emerged far better, Sutton maintained, for all that experience.

"Just the total, obviously, this has been my biggest year of work load, playing over 1,000 snaps, which I know I'm more than capable of doing," he said. "You're not going to be the best at something only seeing it one time, only a few times. You master those things within continuous repetition and seeing those things.

"Being able to do that this year on a consistent level, a consistent basis, down in, down out. I might not have been at corner the whole time but just on a consistent level of just seeing a game, gaining more knowledge, being more situationally aware, just seeing how teams are trying to schematically attack us, situational things that happen throughout the curse of the game, whether it was early or towards the latter part of the game.

"That was a big learning curve for me."

Sutton has been regarded as a heady player since his arrival as a third-round draft pick from Tennessee in 2017, as one who understood not only his position but also those on the rest of the defense.

And he was versatile enough in 2021 to play outside cornerback in the base defense and inside in sub-packages.

Now he's beginning to grasp not only the nature of his craft but the importance of understanding how it must be applied and diversified, of how the Steelers can attack and how they're being attacked on a week-to-week basis and throughout a game.

"I would say the biggest thing, it's a chess match," Sutton maintained. "The NFL overall has a foundation. Teams have a foundational base of who they are, their identity as a team, things that you're gonna see from them on a consistent basis. For us, we never want to be necessarily a stationary target. I don't want you shooting shots at me and I'm standing still.

"Sometimes, game plans are more fundamental based than other weeks. And sometimes game plans are more versatile and more broad than other weeks. Some teams have different parts or pieces that we're able to schematic around or game plan around. I keep getting back to the chess match within the game. Teams are not being stationary targets in themselves.

"When you get a bead on a team and you get a bead on things they might be running schematically or throughout the course of a game you start to redirect plans or stay the course of the plan that you're already on. That is the challenge within the game, the real beauty in the game. You're obviously thinking ahead and not necessary outsmart another team, but you always want to put yourself in the right position no matter how the course of the game is going.

"You come into each and every year with that fundamental base, our identity, who we are as a team, who we are as a defense, our principles, what makes Steeler brand of football. And from that you're able to diversity and build for the long fight."