Season Of Change: Competing Interests At Cornerback

Over the course of the past couple of years, the Pittsburgh Steelers have undergone an uncommon amount of change, which could have been largely correlated with the fact that the team had finished 8-8 in consecutive seasons while failing to advance to the postseason.

In deference to general manager Kevin Colbert, the attitude used to approach the offseason in those years was that this was an 8-8 team and these were 8-8 players. It’s little surprise that a lot of things changed during those years.

At the cornerback position, the Steelers are in a position in which change is necessary, and that is tied specifically to one player: Cortez Allen. That change? Hold on to your starting spot.

Allen has had two chances to do so over the course of the past two seasons and has been unable to, even if injuries have played their role. No doubt a healthy season will go a long way toward improving his chances of turning his career around and back on the track that it seemed to be on a couple years ago.

But Allen is not the only player in the secondary that will determine the success or failure of the defense this year. The Steelers find themselves in a less than ideal situation with their starting cornerbacks, and although William Gay has earned his place in the current hierarchy, the reality is that the team doesn’t, and shouldn’t, want him to be their top guy at the position.

So in a bit of a change, we may see the Steelers privately rooting for an internal shakeup during the season as they look to get their two rookie cornerbacks, Senquez Golson and Doran Grant, involved in the defense, at least in sub-package play.

To be fair, it’s by no means completely out of the ordinary for young defensive players to log playing time for the Steelers in their rookie years, albeit in very limited capacity. I can think of at least four players who have done so as rookies for the Steelers since 2009 off the top of my head.

There may be some competing interests at play here in wanting the starters to perform, for obvious reasons, while also wanting their promising rookies to progress quickly and show themselves to be contributors. One factor in this equation is the purported ball skills that they bring to the table—yet Gay and Allen did combine for five interceptions, with Allen’s two coming in limited play.

The bottom line is that the cornerback position is a bit of an unsorted mess at the moment, as there is ample reason to be less than completely sold on the starters, yet it could quickly prove to be a mistake to put too much too soon on rookies at such a key position that requires experience to execute.

The Steelers have not done a great deal to address the position through the draft or free agency over a period of years, which creates an interesting and unusual dynamic within this current group, where the ultimate goal at the end of the line is to see the young players just drafted pan out, but you don’t want that to come at the expense of your starters.

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