Preseason Expectations: Cornerbacks

Five games. 18 practices. That’s the allotted time the 2015 Pittsburgh Steelers will have to prove themselves before playing in a meaningful game. The preseason is unique in the sense that it’s the only time when the scoreboard doesn’t matter. 0-5, 5-0, it really isn’t going to matter. It’s the time for self-evaluation, seeing how players progress. And that’s what we’ll do here. For each player on the 90 man roster, we’ll give a short overview of what we’re looking for from them entering camp.

The last group to examine, the secondary. Today, we’ll specifically talk about each cornerback.

William Gay: Gay had a superb 2014 campaign and his high football IQ really shined through on all of his interceptions. They weren’t luck. At his age and experience in the system, there isn’t much to learn. He is an average athlete but physical, smart, a solid tackler, and willing to set the edge against the run.

The only aspect I’ll be watching for is where he plays in subpackage football. It seems very likely he’ll line up in the slot but we’ll have to confirm that after the first practice.

Cortez Allen: So many question marks and in my mind, the biggest “X” factor of the whole team. He has to play well this year and we’re going to start to get an idea of where his mind is at in training camp.

Let’s look at the numbers. He was flagged nine times last season, or once every 32 snaps .By my count, quarterbacks completed nearly 62% of their passes thrown his way for five touchdowns across 34 attempts.

Technically, Allen was a mess during the regular season and as Will Allen pointed out to me, Carnell Lake is a very technique-oriented guy. The corner has to do a better job of staying in-phase, tight to the hip of the cornerback, resisting the urge to look back to the ball and allowing separation. Physically, he still has all the tools. Mentally, I’m not so sure. That’s what we’re looking for and make no mistake, all eyes will be on him. Hopefully his confidence can remain high.

Antwon Blake: Blake really opened my eyes last year and convinced me to believe he can exist as a cornerback and not just a special teamer. I’m excited to watch him make the jump into year two at CB, shaking off some of the first-year woes that come with getting your first legitimate exposure on defense. That showed up on tape, being slow to react to route combinations at times.

Beyond that, the guy has all the skills I look for in a cornerback – minus height, but that’s obvious and not worth talking about. There isn’t a growth spurt happening to #41.

Senquez Golson: I’m curious where he lines up. Will it be on the outside where he played at Ole Miss? Or in the slot, a bit friendlier for him frame but a difficult position to learn? My bet is on the former.

Clearly, he’s going to have to find a way to compensate for his height. Can he be physical at the catch point? Is his vertical good enough to contest?

Where does he fit in on special teams? Is he showing an affinity there? Those things will help shape where his rookie season takes him.

Doran Grant: Not too different than my thoughts on Golson. Grant has the major size advantage but isn’t nearly the athlete Golson is. How well does Grant do when asked to change directions? Straight-line, the guy is fine and should make a good gunner, but when asked to move laterally, he struggled at Ohio State. My number one issue with him and what I’ll go looking for in the preseason. He should have plenty of chances to prove himself.

B.W. Webb: The most easily forgotten about Steeler on this roster. Remember, he didn’t go through training camp in Pittsburgh last year. It was in Dallas before he was scooped up after final cuts. So this will be our closest and best look at his game. Not ready to write him off just because he we didn’t see much last year, save for some special teams work and like, two snaps on defense.

Kevin Fogg: A guy I don’t know much about but got some fanfare during the spring, including a pick six of Ben Roethlisberger. If he makes the roster, it’ll be as the #6 CB, beating out Webb. Not impossible but I find him landing on the practice squad more likely.

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