Pittsburgh Steelers safety Robert Golden is entering his fourth season in the NFL, the first three of which he has played in Pittsburgh after originally joining the team as an undrafted free agent. He was given a restricted free agent tender, which he is expected to sign.
During his first three seasons, Golden has made himself indispensable through his special teams play. He was a somewhat surprising retention during his rookie season as a fifth safety on the roster, but he managed to prove his worth with his play in the third phase of the game when he did get a helmet on game day.
Late in the year, he was forced into duty in the slot as a cornerback as the injuries mounted, and he admittedly did not fare very well, particularly during his 20 snaps against the Cowboys, during which he gave up three receptions, including a touchdown.
But there is a reason that Golden was a conversion project when he transitioned from college to the pros, moving to the back end from the corner, because that is where the majority of scouts believed his assets translated best.
During his second year, the Steelers felt comfortable enough in Golden to carry him as just one of four safeties, with the other reserve safety being rookie Shamarko Thomas. This resulted in him getting some early playing time, as he ended up playing about 50 snaps during the first month of the season as the deep safety.
But the Steelers ended up signing back Will Allen after he was released by the Cowboys, and he ultimately reclaimed his role as the top reserve safety. Golden went back to focusing on special teams, which netted him the title of captain last year.
I’m not so sure that things will go that way again this year, or at least he should have the opportunity to make things go differently.
While I have written about my belief that the partial motive for the Steelers’ delaying the re-signing of Allen this offseason had to do with respect for Troy Polamalu and its public relations implications, another factor in delaying the signing could be as a signal of change in the pecking order.
Naturally this applies more to Thomas than to Golden, as the third-year former fourth-round draft pick is expected to enter the starting lineup this year after spending last offseason being groomed under Polamalu and learning to train with him.
But perhaps there’s also the opportunity for Golden to climb the depth chart here as well, or at least to split up the reserve roles. Golden appears to be better suited as the deep safety, as a center fielder, so he could carve out a niche for himself as the deep safety in sub-packages and the backup free safety.
We’ve seen so little of Golden on defense that it’s hard to really say how things might unfold. But Allen isn’t getting any younger, and Golden would be the next man up next year anyway, presumably. Perhaps we’ll see a preview of that this season, if he earns it.