PRE-CAMP BUZZ: BREAKING DOWN STEELERS SECONDARY
Steelers coaches have talked all off-season and try to sell the media on that the cornerback group is much better than people think it is. With the Steelers reporting to camp today, we’re about to find out.
“I feel good about the cornerbacks that we have and we have more numbers there than people realize,” defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau said.
At the top of the depth chart is Cortez Allen, Ike Taylor and William Gay.
Taylor graded out as one of the worst defensive backs in the NFL last season as no cornerback allowed more yards than Taylor who gave up 1,043 yards through the air. A player at Taylor’s age, it’s unlikely he improves much from his play in 2013.
The Steelers are banking on Cortez Allen improving/staying healthy in a big way and a second consecutive strong season from William Gay, which could be too much to ask.
According to Pro Football Focus, Gay ranked 8th among all cornerbacks in 2013, allowing just 493 yards through the air and one touchdown.
His career track record shows it’s unlikely he plays at the same level in consecutive seasons.
While there’s question marks among Allen-Taylor-Gay on how productive this group will be, there’s even more questions about the depth at corner.
“We may have great players in the building already, they just haven’t had the chance to show us that they are great,” LeBeau said this off-season about the cornerback group. Defensive backs coach Carnell Lake has sung the same tune.
“We’ve been fortunate in that we’ve picked up some players as free agents,” Lake said. “Antwon Blake is one. Really fast and aggressive corner that I liked coming out last year. “We were fortunate to grab him in free agency, and he’s been productive for us last year and Brice McCain, I’m really impressed with the way he moves. These guys are just getting started. They have the ability to cover and stay close to receivers.”
One player that could make some noise in camp is fifth round pick Shaquille Richardson who Steelers coaches see a lot of upside in.
“He’s really a tough competitor, 6-feet tall and just has good size,” Lake said of Richardson. “He’s aggressive, good in bump-and-run coverage. He does a good job tackling and is a smart, young corner that can come in and contribute. So, he gives us good size out there and has the ability to put some pressure on tall receivers that have been drafted in the past few years.”
Richardson measured in at 6-0, 194, at the combine and ran a 4.43 forty.
Elsewhere in the secondary, there is more of a comfort level at the safety position. The Steelers feel they have upgraded in a significant way with the signing of Mike Mitchell who is younger than Ryan Clark and brings an intimidating style to the table. He makes the Steelers faster and more physical. Mitchell had 66 tackles, 4 interceptions, and 3.5 sacks in 2013 for the Panthers.
Troy Polamalu played in a team-high 1,041 snaps last season, forcing a career-high five fumbles. He was used differently playing quite often as an inside linebacker in passing downs.
The depth is adequate behind Mitchell and Troy Polamalu with Will Allen, Shamarko Thomas and Robert Golden. Allen stepped up in a big way last season.