The Optimist’s Take – Hidden Safety Depth

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 any depth at safety?

Looking ahead now in early February, it’s hard to predict what the safety situation will look like once the 2015 season gets underway. For the purposes of this discussion, however, I am making the following assumptions: 1) Troy Polamalu either retires or is released, and 2) Robert Golden is re-signed.

The focus of this question is on Golden and Ross Ventrone, and whether or not they have any potential to contribute outside of special teams, in which capacity both have excelled over their careers.

With Polamalu retiring, the assumption is that Shamarko Thomas will step into the starting lineup opposite Mike Mitchell. whether or not Will Allen is re-signed, the Steelers will still need further depth.

Neither Golden nor Ventrone have played much at all on defense for the Steelers. Golden only has around 100 snaps to his name in three seasons, much of which came in the slot, rather than at safety. Ventrone has even less in-game experience—none with the Steelers—though he has been in the league since 2010.

But looking back to the preseason, I do recall both reserve safeties playing well in Pittsburgh’s exhibition games. Ventrone in particular looked strong against the run. For his part, Golden did have an interception, though he had mixed success against the run, missing a couple of tackles.

The truth is that neither player is new to this league. They both know what they’re doing, but that also generally means that if they haven’t cracked the playing time barrier at this point in their careers, there might well be a reason for it.

If we look back to last season, however, we saw some key contributions from less heralded cornerbacks, and neither Golden nor Ventrone have shown themselves to be abject failures as defensive players. With a shakeup at the safety position, it’s very possible that these two fringe players could be moving up the depth chart—or at least being given an opportunity to do so.

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