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 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, whether that that is via a restricted free agent tag or as an unrestricted free agent.
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.
So can Golden and/or Ventrone play? Because neither of them have actually done so with any significant extensiveness. Ventrone wasn’t even in the league in 2013 after failing to make the Steelers as a special teamer, but profited from an expanded practice squad to stick around in 2014, and has finally found himself on the roster.
The former undrafted free agent has spent the past two preseasons with the Steelers, and when he has been in games, he has played well, considering the competition that he was facing in those games. But there isn’t enough information to suggest how that would translate in the regular season.
Golden, meanwhile, had both good and bad performances during the preseason, but hasn’t seen much time on defense, particularly in 2014, during the regular season. it’s worth keeping in mind, however, that the Steelers were comfortable keeping just Golden and Thomas as their two reserve safeties at the beginning of the 2013 season.
If Thomas does move into the starting lineup, one would expect that the Steelers will use the offseason to see if either Golden or Ventrone, or some other safety, could be trusted to log time on defense, but because there’s so little evidence to suggest that they could, it wouldn’t be surprising if they look for other routes.