Now that we have completed our look at the Pittsburgh Steelers’ 90-man roster heading into OTAs, it’s time to take a look back at the team’s 53-man roster from last year’s regular season, for the purpose of revisiting the contributions of the players that are no longer with the team, and whether or not those contributions have been adequately replaced.
Roster turnover is just a natural fact of today’s NFL, which have only become more prominent since the advent of free agency more than two decades ago. It’s very rare for a team to return all 11 starters on one side of the ball from one year to the next, let alone to do so for both the offense and defense.
The Steelers are certainly no exception to that rule, and they figure to have a number of lineup changes from 2014 to 2015—more so than usual, perhaps, with the retirement of three starters on the defensive side of the ball alone.
Few defensive backs have meant as much to the Steelers organization over time as has Ike Taylor, who served 12 campaigns with the team before announcing his retirement earlier this offseason following an injury-plagued year.
Taylor started in three Super Bowls for the Steelers over his tenure after being drafted in the fourth round of the 2003 NFL Draft, and had been in the starting lineup by 2005. With the exception of a brief spell at the end of the 2006 season, he started every other game he played in but one.
From 2005 to late in the 2012 season, he never missed a start, and was an ironman for a Steelers defense that increasingly relied on his veteran presence to help lock down the opponents’ best target to buy enough time for the pass rush to get home.
Things haven’t gone as smoothly in his later years, however, with 2014 because a particularly frustrating season for both Taylor and the defense. Though he was playing on a reasonable level early on (he had a nice stretch of plays toward the end of the first Ravens game), a friendly fire incident caused him to miss most of the season due to an arm injury.
Upon his return, he reentered the starting lineup, but he clearly wasn’t the same, having lost yet another step in coverage and playing with a hesitance that was unfortunately new to a his repertoire. He was quickly banged up after two games and never played another snap.
The Steelers were fortunate that William Gay stepped up as he did, and by the looks of things, he will continue to fill that role as the top cornerback, even if he likely won’t roam the field as much and mostly stick to one side of the field.
The Steelers didn’t really have Cortez Allen last year, so if he can rebound, the team does have a reasonable shot of boasting an improved secondary compared to last season. While that may not be saying much, it does seem a bit surprising that that could be true a year after Taylor’s retirement, who has been so important to the team’s success over the past decade.