RENTON — Through all the understandable attention on the two rookie cornerbacks the Seahawks drafted in the spring and the revival of the career of former Huskies star Sidney Jones IV, Artie Burns just keeps hanging in.
When the Seahawks took the field for their ninth practice of training camp Sunday, Burns again lined up as a starter at cornerback, just as he has for all eight previous practices.
“I see the arrow going up on Artie on where he’s going,’’ defensive coordinator Clint Hurtt said recently of the 27-year-old Burns.
That might surprise those in Pittsburgh who remember Burns being regarded as one of the bigger disappointments in the team’s recent history.
Taken with the 25th overall choice of the 2016 draft, Burns was relegated to backup status in his third season after starting most of his first two years, and at times was a healthy inactive during his fourth and final Pittsburgh year when he played just 66 defensive snaps in 10 games.
Burns’ descent in Pittsburgh from hoped-for shutdown corner to a player the team let walk in free agency following the 2019 season was only exacerbated by the fact the cornerback taken after him in the draft, Xavien Howard, drafted 38th by Miami, has become a three-time Pro Bowler and a one-time All-Pro selection.
“I don’t believe there has been a Steelers draft pick made by Kevin Colbert (who was the Steelers’ general manager from 2000-2021) that was more universally met with criticism than was the selection of Artie Burns in the first round of the 2016 NFL draft,’’ opined a writer for a Steelers’ fan website, steelersdepot.com, in 2020.
But so far, the Seahawks seem a believer in Burns, who has played on both the right and left side in training camp and Saturday during the team’s mock game was the starter on the left side, generally regarded as the more important of the two sides given that most quarterbacks are right-handed.
“He’s a talented kid,’’ Seahawks coach Pete Carroll said. “He can do all the stuff we would like him to do.’’
Carroll said that in March after the Seahawks signed Burns to a one-year deal worth $2.035 million with $1 million guaranteed, a little bit of a comedown after the four-year deal worth $7.8 million Burns got after he was drafted by the Steelers in 2016.
But they didn’t have much competition for Burns, who said he had his eyes set on the Seahawks from the start of free agency, in part because of relationships he has with Hurtt and Sean Desai, who is in his first year as associate head coach for defense and helping the Seahawks implement a new defense featuring more 3-4 looks in the wake of the firing of defensive coordinator Ken Norton Jr. following last season.
Desai was the defensive coordinator last year for the Chicago Bears with whom Burns breathed new life in his career, recovering from an ACL injury in 2020 to emerge as a starter down the stretch in 2021, starting six of the team’s last seven games, including a 25-24 victory over the Seahawks at snow-covered Lumen Field last Dec. 26. Burns finished with a season grade of 79.5 from Pro Football Focus that would have ranked him fifth among all cornerbacks if he had enough games to qualify, sparked by his grade of 90.5 against Seattle.
“You could see him really ascending this season in Sean’s (defense),’’ Seattle general manager John Schneider said after the Seahawks signed him in March.
While the Seahawks remain high on draft choices Coby Bryant and Tariq Woolen — the latter of whom teamed with Burns with the first-team defense Saturday — as well as Jones and 2021 draft pick Tre Brown, who remains sidelined with a knee injury — as each day passes the odds seem to increase that Burns could well end up with a significant role for the Seahawks in 2022.
“I think Artie has a skill set that fits a lot of schemes,’’ Desai said after practice Sunday. “He’s a good cover corner and he has quick feet. His part has been learning what we are doing here. That’s been the step for him, to learn what we are doing here and the different types of things that we want to play with him in the roles that we have him in here.”
And so far, apparently so good. Burns ended a practice earlier in camp with consecutive pass breakups of throws to DK Metcalf and Tyler Lockett in a performance that only appeared to strengthen his hold for now on a starting job.
Woolen’s emergence — he was one of the standouts of the mock game Saturday — won’t make hanging onto that job easy.
But the 6-foot, 187-pound Burns promises not to give his position up easily. Burns considered signing with Seattle in 2020 when he first became a free agent before deciding on Chicago. He then tore his ACL in camp and missed that season before finally recovering enough to play a year ago.
“I finally feel now 100% after two years of recovery,’’ he said last week.
The presence of Desai and Hurtt — who tried to recruit Burns to Louisville as an assistant there in 2013 before Burns decided to sign with his hometown Miami Hurricanes — helped seal the deal on Burns coming to Seattle.
“The timing was right,’’ Burns said.
Said Hurtt: “We still feel like he is an ascending player and sure enough, he has familiarity with the scheme from being in Chicago last year. You’ve seen that benefit pay off since he has been here. He has great command, helps out the young guys.’’
No change to QB rotation
The Seahawks held a walk-through that lasted just over an hour Sunday at the VMAC. Despite Drew Lock having a better statistical game than Geno Smith in the mock game there was no change to the quarterback depth chart Sunday with Smith getting every snap with the starting offense and Lock with the twos.
Carroll did not meet with media members Sunday to further elaborate on the QB position after saying Saturday he needed to see the film before drawing any conclusions on the play of Smith and Lock.
- Rookie Abraham Lucas, a third-round choice out of Washington State, again worked with the first-team offense at right tackle as he had Friday and in the mock game Saturday. That might mean he is for now the leader at that position ahead of Jake Curhan and Stone Forsythe. Curhan, however, did not take part in practice Sunday — he watched from the side — and with Carroll unavailable to talk to the media it was unclear if he was injured or just getting a rest day. Forsythe worked with the second team at left tackle.
- Middle linebacker Jordyn Brooks, out the past few days with a hamstring issue, was back on the field Sunday.