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Insider Only Steelers buzz 2010: Improvement in secondary will have to come from development of young players & draft

2010 Free Agency Cornerbacks/Safeties
Whether defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau or other members of the Steelers coaching staff want to admit it or not, the Steelers secondary in 2009 was among league’s worst.
It took until week 17 for a Steelers cornerback to record an interception, and a lack of playmakers from a crucial position played a factor in the Steelers enduring a 5 game losing streak that eventually cost them a spot in the playoffs.
Improvement in the secondary in 2010 could very well depend on an healthy Troy Polamalu but banking on Polamalu to be healthy for a full season is risky business.
Moving forward the Steelers have to learn how to win without Polamalu, just the Colts learned how to win in 09 without pro bowl safety Bob Sanders, who like Polamalu is a questionmark every year to be healthy.
The Steelers just finished their scouting evaluations on Wednesday as the team prepares for the free agency which begins on March 5th.
The Steelers have made it known it will be business as usual this off-season, despite the likely hood of an uncapped season.
However, unless the Steelers were willing to make a surprise move and go after Leigh Bodden or Dunta Robinson, neither is going to happen, the free agent crop for cornerbacks and safeties is watered down due to a vast amount of cornerbacks who will be restricted free agents instead of unrestricted free agents with no CBA in place.
A number of these cornerbacks are starters and nickel backs in their prime.
*Carlos Rogers, Washington Redskins – Restricted FA (UFA-CBA)
*Richard Marshall, Carolina Panthers – Restricted FA (UFA-CBA)
*Will Blackmon, Green Bay Packers – Restricted FA (UFA-CBA)
*Marlin Jackson, Indianapolis Colts – Restricted FA (UFA-CBA)
*Ellis Hobbs, Philadelphia Eagles – Restricted FA (UFA-CBA)
*Tim Jennings, Indianapolis Colts – Restricted FA (UFA-CBA),
*Karl Paymah, Minnesota Vikings – Restricted FA (UFA-CBA)
*Stanford Routt, Oakland Raiders – Restricted FA (UFA-CBA)
*Kevin Dockery, New York Giants – Restricted FA (UFA-CBA)
*Fabian Washington, Baltimore Ravens – Restricted FA (UFA-CBA).
Therefore, the cornerback market will be headlined by Bodden, Robinson and followed by a number of aging veterans who are no longer starters in this league.
The group under Bodden and Robinson includes, Deshea Townsend (Pittsburgh Steelers), Will James (Detroit Lions), Dre Bly (San Francisco 49ers), Ken Lucas (Seattle Seahawks), Nick Harper (Tennessee Titans), Anthony Henry (Detroit Lions), Walt Harris (San Francisco 49ers) and Roderick Hood (Cleveland Browns).
Safety is also an area of focus for Pittsburgh due to the impending free agency of Ryan Clark. Although the Steelers have tabbed Ryan Clark as a priority, there is doubt around the league that the two sides will strike a deal before March 5th.
Negotiations between Omar Khan and Joel Turner, the agent for Clark, are set to begin this week.
Clark will be the beneficiary of the uncapped season and is arguably the top free agent safety behind Darren Sharper, who in all likely hood will be retained by the New Orleans Saints.
Top safeties such as Antoine Bethea (Indianapolis Colts), Roman Harper (New Orleans Saints), Nick Collins (Green Bay Packers), Bernard Pollard (Houston Texans), and O.J. Atogwe (St. Louis Rams) will be restricted free agents instead of unrestricted free agents due there being no collective bargaining agreement in place.
This puts Clark in prime position to land a contract upwards of what Miami Dolphins safety Gibril Wilson signed for last off-season (5 years – $27 million).
Money will be the deciding factor in Clark returning.
Improvement in the secondary in 2010 clearly won’t come free agency and it will have to come from the development of young players and the draft.
The 2010 draft is rich with defensive players and a strong group of cornerbacks and safeties. The Steelers will have the ability to retool their secondary through the draft but likely won’t reap the benefits until 2011 at the earliest.
Therefore, expectations in the organization are high in year two for 2009 third round pick Keenan Lewis.
Although Lewis rarely dressed on game days and was passed up by Joe Burnett on the depth chart, a back injury that bothered Lewis for much of the second half of the season hindered his development.
The Steelers have told Lewis to prepare to get work at safety and cornerback during OTA’s.

The Steelers will also be looking for improvement from two others.
Starting cornerback William Gay had an awful season in 09 and is a restricted free agent. The Steelers have until March 4th to tender Gay an offer and they are expected to.
Like Lewis, the Steelers will also be looking for cornerback Joe Burnett to push for playing time. Although Burnett has some playmaking skills, he was a 5th round pick and was selected mostly for his abilities in the return game.
At the safety position, the Steelers are in more trouble depth wise than they are at cornerback. Ryan Mundy will be entering his third season but has yet to show any kind of ability to be a starter in this league. Mundy, like Burnett, was also a late round pick.
The Steelers go into the off-season with many question marks surrounding their secondary and those question marks will likely surround this team into next season.

About The Author

William DePaoli

TIOPS Insider

William DePaoli is the President/Founder of Inside Pittsburgh Sports LLC and can be reached at wdepaoli@insidepittsburghsports.com

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