As of late, both safety positions for the Pittsburgh Steelers have been given huge question marks. Ryan Clark and Troy Polamalu held down those spots until 2014, when Clark became a free agent and signed with the Washington Redskins. The Steelers then signed Mike Mitchell, who came off a productive season in Carolina. Now that Polamalu has retired, both safety spots that were held down from 2006-2014 have been vacated and now newer faces must rise up and take on the challenge.
There are only so many safety spots available, but so many safeties champing at the bit to earn a roster spot and prove their worth.
Mike Mitchell: Mitchell struggled in his first season with the black and gold, missing many tackles and not earning an interception and we learned after the season that he played with two torn groins. Mitchell told reporters that he wasn’t looking for an excuse, and he tried doing what he could do for his team. He is certain to make the roster, and start at free safety in 2015 and will look to rebound from a disappointing season while staying healthy.
Shamarko Thomas: Thomas will be the heir to Polamalu’s throne and will need to prove he belongs as a long-term answer at the position. He has played 195 snaps and 193 of those came in his rookie campaign. Staying healthy has also been a struggle for Thomas, missing time in 2013 and going down with a hamstring last year. Thomas is sharing a question mark with many others on this defense as we know little to nothing about how well he could play the strong safety position. He has been a quality special teamer and a big hitter, but that is all we really know as of now.
Will Allen: Allen is returning to the Steelers to help fill any safety role needed and will gladly back up both spots valiantly. When Polamalu went down last year, it was Allen who went in for relief. His versatility and being a Mike Tomlin favorite will land him a roster spot.
Robert Golden: Golden has yet to show his ability as a safety because he has not simply had the opportunity. He has been a high quality special teamer, captain at that. His role as the upback has yet to be seized from him since he claimed that role. With Allen climbing up in age, he could grab the backup safety spot when Allen retires.
Ross Ventrone: Finding a niche as a special teams demon has landed Ventrone on the roster last season. He was called up when Thomas went down and faired very well as a special teams player. He has no real value as a safety, so he is purely a special teams player, who could be pushed out of a spot if another safety with value at both safety and as a special teams player comes along. His spot last year is most definitely not guaranteed.
Jordan Dangerfield: Showed some promise and delivered some big hits last year in training camp. Dangerfield has been released and signed a few times and he needs to show he can replicate and improve on his camp last year at safety and be a good special teams performer. He could be one to push for Allen’s backup spot in the future. With Dangerfield being released and re-signed so many times, it is hard to project his future with the team.
Isaiah Lewis and Alden Darby: Lewis and Darby are fighting for a spot on the 53-man roster, but realistically they need to reach the practice squad first. They are on the outside looking in. Both will have to show some safety potential and stand out as a special teamer to out-perform other hungry safeties and push Ventrone out. We don’t know much about either yet.
Gerod Holliman: The interception king of the FBS in 2015. He has shown that he could force turnovers and is a ballhawk. Of course, he comes with many uncertainties. Can he tackle? Can he take proper and precise angles? Is he contact shy? He will need to prove that he can improve as a tackler foremost. His key to make this team or practice squad is special teams and he will need to stand out doing so. Looking forward to seeing his progress.
Ian Wild: Is he a linebacker? Is he a safety? Coming from the CFL, playing for the Winnipeg Blue Bombers, Wild showed linebacker instincts while showing his ability to drop into coverage. Steelers.com has him listed as a safety and that is where he will compete. He recently said in an interview that the safety spot is open and there is competition for it, and he is here to compete for it. Wild will have to battle other safeties and especially Ventrone for a special teams spot. Being a former linebacker, he may have his work cut out for him, but could be a diamond in the rough, and might turn into a special teams demon like Terrance Garvin has done for himself.
As you can tell, there are many safeties on this roster, but only so many available spots. Aside from Mitchell, Thomas and Allen, who will earn a spot on the 53-man roster? Who will get assigned to the practice squad? Who will be unemployed? Only time will tell and It will be a hard fought battle. Special teams is obviously the key to a spot, but versatility and actual value at the safety position could be factors to push out veterans and incumbents.