The calendar is quickly flipping through the month of April, and each day brings us closer and closer to the 2015 NFL Draft. By now, teams should have by and large accomplished everything that they have set out to do in terms of free agent roster building, which means that their sole focus is now preparing for the draft.
The Pittsburgh Steelers have finally been able to clear the Troy Polamalu hurdle and settle into their pre-draft roster. We have broken down the Steelers’ moves at each position in free agency in terms of re-signings, free agent additions and subtractions, cuts, and retirements, so now we begin the final process: determining draft needs.
We’ll finish up our evaluation of offensive and defensive needs with the last line of defense: the safeties. The Steelers not so long ago had a pair of Pro Bowl players at this position, but both are now retired, and it’s up to a new cast of characters to get things turned around on the back end of the defense.
A year after the Steelers decided to walk away from Ryan Clark, who went on to play one more season elsewhere before retiring, future Hall of Famer Troy Polamalu was the next to hang it up, finishing up a 2014 season that was marred by an MCL injury that caused him to miss time and limited him upon return.
The Steelers actually turned to free agency in a rare instance to acquire a starter last offseason, signing Mike Mitchell to fill Clark’s shoes, but the veteran addition had his struggles in his first year in Pittsburgh.
Mitchell suffered a groin injury during the offseason, which limited him at the time as well as throughout the season, though this injury was not really disclosed until after the season was over. It is possible that it limited his explosiveness, but he certainly needs to have a better season in 2015.
Also new to the starting lineup for the Steelers will be, in all likelihood, Shamarko Thomas, the third-year former fourth-round draft pick that the team traded a future third to get. While he played in the slot as a rookie, he nearly did not play at all last season, but that should change significantly this year.
Thomas has been a very good player for the Steelers on special teams, even making plays on the unit, including registering a blocked punt and subsequent safety in the team’s playoff loss to the Ravens. He has shown skills that should transition to the defensive side of the ball, but it’s just a matter of getting it done.
Backing up will be Will Allen and Robert Golden, at least for now. Allen, who will be 33, was re-signed the same day the team announced Polamalu’s retirement. He started four games last year in place of Polamalu, and the Steelers trust him.
Golden has not seen much time on defense in his three years after originally joining the team as an undrafted free agent, but he could be seeing a move up the depth chart as a result of the shift away from Polamalu.
The Steelers still have Ross Ventrone and a slew of potentially interesting futures players at the safety position to sort through as well, including a promising participant in training camp last year in Jordan Dangerfield.
Ultimately, the team has a lot of bodies at safety, but they certainly lack superstars. In other words, unless they can add a true, legitimate playmaker, perhaps even somebody who could start as a rookie, I’m not sure that adding depth this season is necessary, given that they already have so much to do in just determining what they already have available to them. Of course, they did meet with Landon Collins as well, who could be that player.