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 pessimistic side of the coin.
Question: Do the Steelers have a legitimate starting corner option in Antwon Blake?
Antwon Blake has certainly come a long way in his two seasons with the Steelers, who got there first after spending a season with a bottom feeder after going undrafted, only to be cut the year after. The Steelers scooped him up for his special teams performance, but he took on a more significant role in his second season in Pittsburgh.
He still, of course, was a key contributor on special teams, but as the season progressed, he also began to take a larger and larger role in the secondary, as injuries had bumped him up to third on the depth chart. When the Steelers went to the nickel, Blake came in and played the outside corner slot.
But could the Steelers, if all else fails, reasonably count on Blake to emerge as a starting cornerback for the 2015 season? While he showed some encouraging play in 2015, there was also a decent handful of negativity put on tape as well.
What may stick out in memory, for example, is the end zone interception against the Colts, or the strip fumble late in the season finale. You may even recall some of the surprisingly big hits that he put on opposing players for a man his size.
But do you recall the bad angles and missed tackles? How about his struggles in the red zone, particularly in Atlanta, in part due to his height? What about the long balls he was beaten deep on, only to have the quarterback fail to complete the necessary throw? He gave up five touchdowns on the year, and he played under 300 snaps.
He may have developed throughout the course of the regular season, but how much further can he go? How far away is he actually already from his ceiling? Is he, at best, an in-season fallback option in the event of injury or a benching, as was the case a year ago?