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Mike Tomlin: Steelers CB Artie Burns has to ‘smile in the face of adversity’

November 10, 2018

Benched for the final two drives in his most recent game, cornerback Artie Burns will get a chance to redeem himself Sunday when the Pittsburgh Steelers return from their bye and face the Cleveland Browns.

How much the former first-round draft pick plays will depend on what he shows in practice this week, coach Mike Tomlin said Tuesday at his weekly press conference.

“He’s got to keep working,” Tomlin said. “He’s got to smile in the face of adversity.”

Burns faced plenty of adversity during the Steelers’ 28-21 win at Cincinnati. He broke the wrong way and allowed a 14-yard touchdown catch to wide receiver Tyler Boyd late in the first half that tied the score, 14-14.

In the fourth quarter, Burns was called for pass interference, a 14-yard infraction that extended a drive in which the Bengals scored the go-ahead touchdown with 1 minute, 18 seconds remaining. Burns wasn’t on the field for the final six plays of that drive or the final two of the game after the Steelers regained the lead with 10 seconds left.

“Young guys in the National Football League go through periods of lulls in play, particularly in the secondary, particularly at the cornerback position,” Tomlin said. “You see it time and time again. Often their careers are defined by how they respond to it, how they smile in the face of the adversity, how they remain unwavered, how they continue to work through the misery. He’ll be given that opportunity.”

The Steelers expected Burns, in his third season, to lock down the corner spot opposite Joe Haden. But after Patrick Mahomes threw for 326 yards and six touchdowns against the Steelers in Week 2, Burns was placed in a rotation with Coty Sensabaugh.

After playing 69 percent of the defensive snaps against Baltimore the next week, Burns was on the field for 57 percent of the snaps against Atlanta and 48 percent against Cincinnati.

“I like the way he has worked,” Tomlin said. “The other guys have been given the same opportunity. We’ll just keep punching the clock. When you step into a stadium and step across that white line, you have an opportunity to show that growth. When you have negative plays on tape at the cornerback position, people are going to throw at you. That’s how it goes.”

The Steelers are ranked No. 27 in pass defense, allowing 282.3 yards per game. Only four teams have given up more touchdown passes than the 15 allowed by the Steelers.

Given the instability at the position and Arizona Cardinals All-Pro corner Patrick Peterson asking for a trade, could the Steelers try to connect the dots and make a deal before the Oct. 30 trading deadline? Wide receiver Antonio Brown and guard Ramon Foster have lobbied for the Steelers to make the trade.

“I don’t delve into the hypothetical fodder about who is potentially available and who is not,” Tomlin said. “Some of those things are just speculation, there is no significance to it so why comment on it, why think about it, why waste one iota of our time.

“We’ve got real tangible issues relative to the guys on our team that need to be addressed.”

One of those issues, obviously, is the play of Burns. His play in practice this week will determine whether he starts, remains in a rotation or takes a seat on the bench Sunday.

“You better be getting better every day,” Tomlin said. “Forget where you are, forget what happened specifically as you step into a stadium, win or lose. Obviously, the goal is to win, but as you step out of the stadiums, you better make a commitment to be better the next stadium you step in, so that is where we put our focus.”

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