Replacing A Championship Roster – The Cornerback Carousel

The Pittsburgh Steelers have experienced an uncommon amount of roster turnover over the last few seasons, which just so happened to coincide with consecutive years without a postseason berth.

As a result, we’re finding an unusual amount of new faces in the starting lineup compared just to last season, when the season before already introduced several new starters.

The rapid turnover in successive seasons certainly has much to do with the organization’s personnel management over the previous years. Time, as always, came out the victor as they felt the ramifications of trying to hold together a championship roster that could no longer perform like one.

Considering  how different the projected starting lineup for the start of the 2014 season is from just two seasons ago, I think it would be interesting to revisit the roster from the 2010 season—the last time the Steelers competed for a championship—to see how different this new team truly is.

The Steelers won a Super Bowl with Bryant McFadden as their primary starting cornerback opposite Ike Taylor in 2008. But then-second-year cornerback William Gay also played quite well that season, filling in for McFadden while he healed from an arm injury, and then rotating with him upon his return.

This in part led to the front office’s decision to allow McFadden to leave in free agency in the 2009 offseason, placing Gay in the starting lineup. But he struggled significantly adjusting to life as a full-time starter, such that the Steelers traded a fifth-round pick during the 2010 draft in order to reacquire McFadden.

He was immediately reinstalled into the starting lineup, starting all 19 games en route to an eventual loss in the Super Bowl at the end of the 2010 season. But he battled injuries early in 2011, and immediately lost his starting job back to Gay. McFadden played just 19 snaps after starting the season opener that year, and he would never play again.

The position has had three different starters since then. Gay finished out the 2011 season as the starting cornerback opposite Taylor, while Keenan Lewis came in during the nickel package to man the outside.

Lewis assumed the starting job in 2012 and rode a strong season to a new contract to play for his hometown team in New Orleans, as the keys to the driver’s seat were handed to Cortez Allen.

Allen had gained some starting experience at the end of the 2012 season when Taylor was forced to miss time due to injury for the first time in his career. He found some mixed success during that stint, including a brief flurry of turnovers late in the year, which got a lot of people excited about his possibility of developing.

But he battled injuries in the early goings of the 2013 season, beginning with a knee cleanout procedure in training camp. He then sprained his ankle in the first game, causing him to miss time, and he struggled when he returned.

His struggles were significant enough to get him demoted, and he spent the majority of the rest of the season playing as the nickel back.

It wasn’t until the last three games of the year that the coaching staff trusted him enough to put him back into the starting lineup. But he finished on a strong note, registering a pick six in the penultimate game and displaying some strong coverage skills in the finale with a pair of pass deflections.

Allen is once again the presumed starter opposite Taylor at cornerback, but the Steelers know that they have a cornerback in Gay in whom they trust to turn in a representative performance if called upon. As a result, Allen may find his leash a bit shorter than he would like if he struggles again in his attempt to adjust to life as a full-time starter.

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