While the Pittsburgh Steelers may have gained some tangible evidence of improvement, improving their win total by three games and hosting a playoff game as a division champion for the first time in four seasons, there is no doubt that the team is far from a finished product.
No team, of course, is a finished product in the offseason. Every team loses players to free agency and retirement, and replaces them through the same free agency process, as well as the draft.
With all of the change that occurs during the offseason, it’s often difficult to predict how a particular team might fare. They may wind up holding the Lombardi trophy or the first overall draft pick when all is said and done.
In order to gain a better feel for not only the issues facing the team this year, but how those issues might play out, it’s useful to take the devil’s advocate approach. This is the optimistic side of the coin.
Question: Do the Steelers have a legitimate starting corner option in Antwon Blake?
Three years ago, Antwon Blake was an undrafted free agent signing who was being played out of position for one of the worst teams in the league. Nevertheless, he cut his teeth on special teams and showed enough to be picked off the waiver wire in 2013.
Blake proceeded to make a name for himself in Pittsburgh with his special teams abilities as well, even earning a couple of snaps on defense here and there as an injury replacement. In-house, the Steelers liked him enough that his projected development appeared to factor into their free agency and draft strategy, as they avoided the position until the fifth round and only added Brice McCain in free agency.
Of course, McCain ended up playing a big role in the defense, starting most of the year in place of the Steelers’ two injured starting cornerbacks. Even though McCain is typically a slot player and Blake is an outside corner, McCain started and slid inside in the nickel.
This is what Keenan Lewis did in his third season, but took over a starting job in year four. Could Blake possibly make that same transition?
In 2014, Blake wound up playing nearly 300 snaps, most of which came during the second half of the season. He recorded 42 tackles, intercepted one pass in the end zone, and stripped the fall out of A.J. Green’s hands late in the season finale, which helped seal the Steelers’ division title.
He also showed himself to be a surprisingly physical player and a big hitter, and is capable of running deep on an island against opposing receivers. What he lacks in height, he makes up for in a starter’s confidence in his abilities.
Blake certainly may not be the Steelers’ ideal option for a starting cornerback in 2015, but should their resources necessarily be funneled elsewhere, and Cortez Allen continues to struggle, he may not be such a bad option to consider for this next season.