Over the course of the past two games, fourth-year Pittsburgh Steelers safety Robert Golden has begun to turn the corner—not, perhaps, in his own mind, but in the minds of outside observers, the ones who have had him pegged as a lifetime special teams player and nothing more.
Golden has been called into action on the defensive side of the ball for the past two games, and the vast majority of the game prior, due to the fact that starting strong safety Will Allen has missed that length of time with an ankle injury, which has greatly stressed the team’s depth at the back end.
While his play was spotty when filling in cold off the bench three games ago, Golden’s performance was much more representative of what could be expected of a starting safety over the course of the past two games, during which he has gotten the opportunity to get full reps in practice with the starting unit.
As of this moment, it is not clear whether or not Allen will be healthy enough to return for the Steelers’ next game. Head coach Mike Tomlin characterized him within a group of a few other injured players as having a chance to play, but that will be determined based on how the week unfolds.
Should Allen be healthy enough to practice during the course of this week, however, I can’t help but wonder if the coaching staff would consider leaving Golden in the starting lineup for the time being.
The safety tandem currently in place has done well during the past two games, and Allen’s performance earlier in the year had been spotty, if we’re being honest. He had been one of the main culprits in the Steelers’ downward spiral in tackling efficiency on defense.
In spite of the fact that the team’s depth chart on its website has been updated to reflect some changes recently, however, no such change has been made at the safety position, and I would not expect that Allen will lose his job in this fashion, but that doesn’t mean it’s not worth a consideration.
At the very least, Golden has seemed to play well enough to instill confidence in the coaching staff that they have a third safety on the roster in whom they can trust, an idea that had been jeopardized with Shamarko Thomas’ failed preseason audition for the starting spot.
The Steelers happen to be low on cornerbacks at the moment, and they have shown earlier in the season that they have the willingness to play with three safeties on the field, so perhaps Golden’s brief stint in the starting lineup will have bought himself some extra playing time going forward, even if he goes back to near-strictly special teams.
An undrafted free agent in 2012 after converting from cornerback to safety, Golden had caught Tomlin’s eye early on, and while he had never been able to crack the defensive code up until now, he was always a coach’s favorite, as well as a locker room favorite, serving two years running as the special teams captain. Like Allen in the years before him, however, he has shown, when given the opportunity, to be capable of more.