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'He's still learning, but we're excited about that'

Why you should be excited about third-round pick Justin Layne:

He looks the part: At 6-foot-1 and 192 pounds, Layne has the size the Steelers covet in a cornerback.

“I think that one of the things you look for when you’re evaluating cornerbacks, obviously you’re looking for some size,” senior defensive assistant/secondary coach Teryl Austin assessed. “You’re looking for length because when you start talking about a lot of these receivers that are being drafted, they are big men. And you have to be able to compete and win some 50/50 balls.

“So I think size, length, speed, and then ball skills are important because you have to be able to turn the ball over in this league.”

He plays a position that will always be perceived as a position of need: “You can’t have enough corners on your team,” Austin insisted. “Because of the amount of running they do, they help you on special teams. When they get nicked, you have to have people in there. You’re going to play four- or five-receiver packages nowadays, so those guys are important.

“I don’t think you can ever have enough corners on your roster.”

He’s not a finished product: Layne started out as a wide receiver at Michigan State and was switched to cornerback after the fourth game of his freshman season (2016). He also saw snaps and targets at wide receiver against Purdue and Michigan in 2018 due to the number of injuries the Spartans had sustained at the position.

“He's still learning how to play corner, but we're excited about that,” General Manager Kevin Colbert said.

He’s viewed as better than his stats suggest: Layne had one career reception and three career interceptions in three seasons at Michigan State, but the Steelers maintain he can play the ball.

“I’m comfortable with his ball skills after watching him play and talking to people and being at his workout,” Austin said. “I’m comfortable with where he is, it’s just a matter of turning that into production at this level.”

Layne registered 16 of his 27 career passes defensed in 2018.

“We like his length and he’s got good ball skills,” defensive coordinator Keith Butler said.

He craves contact: “I think that’s one thing that sticks out with him when you watch him, he’s competitive,” Austin said. “He’s not afraid to throw it up in there, he’ll tackle. He’ll compete at the point of attack for a ball.”

He’s played against top competition: One of the wide receivers Layne battled in 2018 was Arizona State’s N’Keal Harry, who was drafted 32nd overall by New England.

“I saw him play that game and that’s the one thing I thought, that recover’s very good,” Austin said. “And (Layne) competed very well. He lost a couple, but that’s going to happen when you’re playing a guy that’s that type of quality. But I was very pleased with his performance that game. He didn’t back down. He didn’t give an inch. And he just kept coming at it play after play.”

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