By Jeremy Hritz
All things come to pass, good and bad. The deplorable quarterback play of the Pittsburgh Steelers of the 80s, 90s, and early 2000s stung but did not stick. The grit, production, and smiles of Hines Ward helped to capture two Super Bowl victories, yet his time with the team reached its end just this past season. The ebb and flow of players in the NFL is unavoidable, and the great teams are prepared for when a fixture makes his exit.
While there are more immediate needs this year for the Steelers on the offensive line, nose tackle, and inside linebacker, there is another position of need looming.
Consider the following:
- Starting free safety Ryan Clark is 32, while his back up, Ryan Mundy, who has yet to sign his tender, is 27.
- Starting strong safety Troy Polamalu is 30, while back up safety Will Allen is 29 years old.
While age is not everything, history has shown that the skills of players in their 30s begin to diminish. Clark and Polamalu have been essential in the success of the Steelers for several years, delivering big hits and game-changing turnovers when they were needed most. The impact that the absence of these players have had on the performance of the Steelers is well documented. In 2009, Polamalu missed several games, leaving the defense with a gaping hole that could not protect a lead. This past January, Clark’s absence from the line-up as a result of his sickle-cell trait resulted in Mundy starting, and the outcome need not be revisited. There is no denying how the absence of either of these players enervates the defense, and as they age, the likelihood of more missed games increases.
And there is no solace to be found in backups Mundy and Allen, as the prospect of these guys filling in for Clark or Polamalu is horrifying. While the Steelers will hopefully be able to make it through the year without an injury at the position, the need at safety for at least some depth is apparent. The Steelers are one injury away at safety from catastrophe.
Which brings us to the 2012 NFL Draft. The Steelers need to, at the very minimum, draft a safety in the later rounds, to provide for some depth, something that Dave Bryan has acknowledged in his mock draft with the selection of Michigan State prospect Trenton Robinson. However, what if stud Mark Barron from Alabama fell to the Steelers in the first round, or if he was close enough to pick 24 for the Steelers to trade up and draft him? Earlier this week, writer Christopher DiMarino sang the praises of Barron and his play making abilities, and how he would be a great addition to the Steelers. I am in agreement with DiMarino, yet the chances of him falling are not great. If Barron is not available, would the Steelers consider going after Notre Dame’s Harrison Smith in the second round, who has been described as intelligent, aggressive, and quick, thought a bit stiff in coverage?
The Steelers’ organization is always prepared for change, and the issue at safety is something that assuredly has been discussed. Whether they make a move this year to address it will be telling about their perspective regarding the durability and confidence in Clark, Polamalu, and their back-ups.